Apps for Writers

Scraps of paperFor the longest time I lived my life surrounded by scraps of paper. Whenever a thought would come into my head I would scribble it down using the back of receipts, napkins, and even the back of my hand. I then progressed to notebooks and still take one everywhere to this day. I say one, what I actually mean is over a dozen in various bags, in the car, and around the house. When I want to find a thought, an idea or a scene I’ve scribbled it can sometimes take me ages to find it.

Then I started using notes on my phone. This helped a bit, but I still found myself actually hand-writing anything of length because whilst the phone keyboard is great for knocking out tweets it’s a little tedious for anything beyond the length of a Limerick. I still have the problem of multiple things on multiple mediums and never easily accessible at the right time.

I finally started to investigate apps for writers. There are a multitude out there with various features and strengths and weaknesses. After reading what other writers thought I finally settled for Scrivener and began working through the tutorial.

Not being the most patient of people I kept wanting to jump ahead so created a blank template alongside the tutorial and began playing around with it as I went. I did the shortened version of the tutorial but can always refer back to it for more info if I need to.

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What is it about writing apps that make them so useful and appealing to us writers?

1. You can use the app across all your devices

This is providing you have the same operating system on each, so as an Apple fangirl it works perfectly for me with my iPhone, iPad and Mac Book. I only had to buy Scrivener once, and have downloaded it on all my devices. Then, using Dropbox, I can access everything I have saved wherever I am with any of the three devices. Brilliant!

2. Scrivener allows you to use multi media

The files and folders you create within a given project can be everything from plain text to videos. If you saw a  picture of someone who looks like your character you can add it in the research file. If you watched a video on a location in your book, again it can be added easily. If you have a random thought while waiting at a bus stop you can add it to the binder from your phone within seconds and come back to it later while sipping on a large coffee in front of your laptop. Everything is there and it’s easy to find.

3. Templates

First there is the main template – manuscript, e-book, poem, screenplay etc. There are plenty to choose from and you can also create your own. Then there are the templates within the binder itself.

There are two main templates that come in a manuscript – the character outline and the location description. However you can make templates of your own (I recently made myself an editorial calendar for this blog using the table format), and you can import templates that other Scrivener fans from across the globe have created. You can also copy and paste other templates from other mediums such as Google Docs. The list is endless in terms of the types of templates and files you can create and then use again and again.

4. Compiling

I don’t know about you but when I write my first draft I sometimes find that I need to add scenes, delete scenes, and move scenes around. If I work from just one text file this can be a laborious task. If I write from a series of separate chapter files I can get confused when it comes to putting it all together and formatting it properly. The good news with Scrivener is that it does it all for you. You just click and drag everything into the order you want it to go in and then Scrivener collates and formats it for you. Amazing!

As I’ve only been using Scrivener for a few months I still have loads to learn about it. What nifty tools have you found? Do you use a different app? Are you a paper purist or a tech embracer, or something in between? Tell us what you think!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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I could not believe my luck when I randomly checked on the booking site and found there were tickets available for the Harry Potter play. Some clever person had calculated that it would take all the Harry Potter fans in the world one hundred years to see it. That’s without people going more than once. Needless to say I snapped them up while I could!

IMG_0546When the tickets arrived it felt rather as if I’d won one of Willie Wonker’s golden tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it was really happening. I decided to make a day of it and booked to have dinner at The Ivy in between. This was going to be a day to remember.

As I made my way to my seat I was amused and delighted to see so many people dressed up for the occasion. It is perhaps a testimony to the power of J.K. Rowling’s creation that I can look into the eyes of someone wearing a Ravenclaw tie and see a kindred spirit. It is equally interesting that I’d prefer to be served by a Hufflepuff than a Slytherin when buying merchandise.

The Palace Theatre is deceptively intimate, belying the grand Victorian exterior. From row I of the stalls I had a perfect view of the stage and the seats were really comfy – a good thing considering how long I would be sitting there!

The lights went down for the beginning of Part One and I found myself once again transported to the Wizarding World. I had read the script on the day it came out so I knew the plot but that didn’t detract in any way. It took me a while to get used to different actors playing parts I had grown familiar with through the films but once I had figured out who was who it was plain sailing. The drama built and built to a brilliant end to Part One. The time just flew by – literally.

So I said about dinner at The Ivy. This was a brilliant idea as it was but a short walk away and of course the service was impeccable. I didn’t feel at all rushed. I had just the right amount of time to enjoy a wonderful meal before coming back for Part Two.

IMG_0547I got the impression that there were even more people there for Part Two than Part One but I suspect it’s because everyone was queuing for merchandise. I’d already bought mine in the afternoon and you can arrange to pick it up later if you don’t want to carry it around. It certainly saved a lot of time so I’d highly recommend it.

Part Two itself was even better than Part One. It too flew by to the end and I couldn’t believe it when I found myself in the midst of the whole house who were on their feet giving standing ovation after standing ovation.

The staging was fantastic, the effects were brilliant, the acting was superb. There isn’t a single thing I would have changed about the whole production. I would like to give a special shout out to Anthony Boyle who played Scorpius Malfoy. Everyone in the cast was exceptional but he took it to the next level. I expect he’s someone to watch for the future.

You might be wondering why I didn’t go into more detail about the play itself, skipping rapidly through each part with scarcely a mention of what actually happens. Well, because I have sworn to #keepthesecrets of course. It’s like one of those unbreakable curses. If you want to know more than you will have to go and see it for yourself.

Liv

Hidden Figures

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Last night I finally got to see Hidden Figures, the true story of three African-American female mathematicians who played a vital role in the development of America’s early space program. It was brilliant. Here are three reasons why I recommend Hidden Figures to you:

It tells a good story

Any film which successfully weaves the epic and the intimate is a classic in my book. Hidden Figures is just such a film. The backdrop of the early days of NASA juxtaposed against the intimate tale of the female ‘computers’ is enchanting, gripping and provocative. Sure we know the outcomes of the space missions themselves, but this film is character-driven with fantastic performances from a stellar cast. It’s impossible not to root for Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Octavia Spencer, and Mary Janelle Monáe as they trail-blazed their way into the history books. I’d also like to give a shout out to Kirsten Dunst as Vivian Mitchell. She made me squirm and that can’t have been easy.

It makes a statement

Set in the midst of a segregated America where one lady had to run back and forth to a bathroom on the other side of the campus in all kinds of weather just because of the colour of her skin it reminds us all that it wasn’t that long ago that bigoted prejudices were the dominant way of thinking.

With tensions today rising globally between those that look like us and those who are different it is a poignant and timely reminder that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. The haunting legacy of that era is still with us today bubbling away under the surface and sometimes out in the open. We need to figure out a way to move beyond this concept of ‘other.’ We need to realise that to empower each other to excel and thrive is to empower humanity as a whole, for surely when we do so it can take us to the moon and back.

It made me laugh

The film’s disarming humour added a lightness and class to the performances that left me inspired, hopeful and happy. Need I say more? What more could you want from a day out at the movies? Why don’t you find out for yourselves…

We Are a Muse

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Robert Graves

All my life I’ve enjoyed being around creative people. Regardless of how they express themselves, something inside me comes alive when I’m in the company of writers, artists, musicians, dancers, actors and the like. They make me want to burst and express myself in a new way. They make me feel most alive.

My mum was at Oxford with Lucia Graves. A writer and creative in her own right, she is also the daughter of World War I poet Robert Graves, who is best known for writing I Claudius. During a number of summers we would go out to Deià, Majorca, and stay with the family. Robert was a magnate for creative people. Across the road from the houses, amongst the terraced olive groves and the sheep and goats with the clanging bells, he built a small amphitheatre. It was here that he would perform his poems. It was also the venue for plays put on by members of the Royal Shakespeare Company who happened to be spending the summer there. I will always remember the night I did the thunder sheet for the Tempest.

Then there were the dinners on the terrace, the chatter, the laughter, the candles flickering in the evening light. After clearing the table one night a dancer from the Royal Ballet taught us how to jump and spin our way across the flagstones.

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The Royal Ballet

Towards the end of his life Robert was sadly struck with Alzheimer’s, a particularly cruel illness for such a great mind. As I sat next to him one evening as the adults were in the kitchen washing up he gently lifted his hand and put it in the pocket of my big baggy dress. It was as if he had taken my hand and we sat there, an old, drooling man in a wheelchair, a young girl of nine full of hope for the future. This was communication on a level way beyond words.

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Terrace at Sunset

His wife came out to wipe down the table. She stopped and smiled and said, “if he’d been able, he would have written a poem about you.” Then she stopped some more and considered. “Wait, what I see before me right now is poetry.” That moment changed my life. It made me look at the world in a completely new way, and in that second I decided I wanted to be a writer.

I still surround myself with creative people. I go to concerts and hear incredible music, attend plays, visit galleries, read great books. All of these things and all of these people, along with fantastic sunsets, laughing children, and the moments like that on the terrace in Deià touch my soul, pump my heart, and revitalise my mind. These are my muses, what are your’s?

A Writer On Twitter

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When I first started my Twitter account in August of last year I didn’t really understand what it was all about. Being somewhat verbose I found it difficult to express myself within the 140 character limit that Twitter allows, and I felt rather as if I was shouting into an empty cave with only the echoes of my own voice to keep me company.

Then I discovered the hashtag #amwriting and realised that there was a vast writing community on Twitter who actually speak to one another. When you get beyond the incessant self-promotion and pleas to follow, follow, follow and buy, buy, buy, what you actually find are people just like you, sitting at their computer, sipping on their tenth cup of coffee, trying to create something out of nothing.

I started to interact with a few of these people, and began making some online friends. I created a list for them so that I could keep an eye on their tweets. I made a decision to start following other #amwriting writers and to do my best to get more people talking to one another. Slowly but surely people started following me back. I started to get excited about what was happening.

I don’t remember making a decision about how I would use Twitter as a writer. My posts are very much an extension of myself. They mainly contain wisdom, thoughts, ideas and prompts that help me in the writing process just as much as anyone else. I suppose I’m a community builder and writing enthusiast who likes nothing better than to see that spark of creative energy in others.

When I reached the one thousand follower mark I decided to plan my posts to go out throughout the day. I use Post Planner for this and it has really helped me think about what I am posting, when, and how often. This then gives me time to get down to the epic novel I’m attempting, and to write the occasional blog post.

I made a decision from the get-go that I would follow back pretty much anyone. My only exceptions are girls touting for business and highly offensive accounts that I simply don’t want to look at. I’ve also left my PMs open for now for anyone I am following. If things ever got out of hand that would have change, but right now I’m enjoying the dialogue with other writers and the sense of community that is building there. I don’t however follow on Facebook, Instagram and or any other social media platform, nor do I buy from someone, agree to review their books etc, on first message. I equate that to introducing someone to my parents on a first date. It feels all wrong, so please don’t do it! Get to know me first…

This week, my wonderful tutor from my recent writing retreat, Chrissie Hall, became my 10,000th follower. It’s lovely that this ended up being someone I have actually met, but it would have been just as exciting if it was a new online writing buddy. I now have four lists I manage, and have created a new prompt “Attention all Writers” to get people sharing about their writing experiences. From their replies I have been able to utilise the new Twitter tool called “Moments,” and am really enjoying the responses.

A number of us have also recently rallied around the hashtag #WriteOn as we are challenging one another to finish one piece of work by the end of the year. All fellow procrastinators and starters of multiple unfinished pieces are welcome to join in.

I have absolutely no idea where things will go from here but I am certainly enjoying the journey. If you are a writer on Twitter and use the #amwriting hashtag, feel free to give me a shout out. If you are new to Twitter and have no clue where to start, feel free to drop me a line and I’d be glad to show you the ropes.

Write On!

Liv

 

Denman Writing Retreat

 

I recently went on my first ever writer’s retreat at Denman College in Oxfordshire, England. Denman is owned by the Women’s Institute and offers a plethora of course for members and non-members throughout the year, including a number of different writing courses. The retreat appealed to me because I thought it would give me some quality time to write, away from the usual distractions of home. I wasn’t disappointed. The course tutor, Chrissie Hall, herself a published writer, was disarmingly brilliant at helping us strip away our fears, anxieties and confusion about what we wanted to do with our writing. She inspired us to unleash our creative energy and to share with and support each other. In just four days we had become family, forever invested in each other’s successes.

It’s amazing what can happen when a group of people with a common interest and passion get together. Couple that with an organisation with its roots in the Suffragette movement and you have an environment that is a hotbed for getting things done. That was definitely the case for me. My current WIP, a pre-teen novel about a girl called Mollie Price, was in the planning stages when I went to Denman. During my time there I was able to really flesh out my core characters, do a detailed plot analysis of the book, and finish a very strong first draft of chapter one. I’ve already begun chapter two, and shall continue work on that today.

We had lots of time and space in which to write, opportunities for one-on-one’s with Chrissie, and just the right amount of time to come together and share with one another. All this in beautiful surroundings, with a comfortable study/bedroom to retreat to if we chose to, and delicious food served by friendly staff.

I initially chose to write in my bedroom but quickly decided instead to work in the big teaching room with everyone else. I had my headphones on to help me focus, but the sheer energy of everyone working in the room together was an utter joy and definitely helped me to produce some of my best work.

I’m now sitting here, back at home with my headphones on, playing the same music I played on retreat, and it’s definitely reminding me of those feelings and helping the words  flow as I type. I’m planning on booking myself into the same retreat next year and may go to another in October on preparing your manuscript for publication if my current WIP has reached that stage.

The upshot of all this is that I would recommend writing retreats to anyone who can get to them. There is nothing like it and it will definitely help you progress with your work.

Write on!

Liv

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

 

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In my childhood I lived in a wonderful road where everyone knew each other. Children used to gather after school to hang out, build camps, run races and generally have fun. The older kids looked after the younger ones and so long as we we didn’t leave the street and were back by tea time our parents weren’t the least bit concerned.

It wasn’t just the children I befriended. Across the road from me lived a fascinating lady who had been a missionary overseas. Even as a teenager I would look forward to my visits with her over cups of tea and slightly stale biscuits as she recounted her adventures from around the globe.

Next door the Finnegans always had a plaster for us if we grazed our knees, and Mr O’Leary at number nine let us climb in his trees and build tree houses. No one needed a CRB check to speak to us. We were neighbours, the next best thing to family, a community that did life together, that laughed, cried and grew together.

Nowadays being a neighbour, and part of a community, is much more challenging. People build higher and higher fences and walls around their homes, any adult befriending a child that is not their own is automatically looked on with suspicion, and you’d probably be hesitant to hand out plasters or serve cake in case of allergic reactions and court cases.

But all is not lost. It is still possible to be a good neighbour today and a community of strangers can become a community of friends. Here are some of the things I have seen happening in my street recently:

  1. Christmas cards

    There is no better way to find out who lives in your street than to send them Christmas cards. “To all at number 10, wishing you a very Merry Christmas from Olivia McCabe at number 28” lets them know you are there, thinking of them, and gives them the opportunity to send a card back introducing themselves to you in turn.

  2. Neighbourhood Watch

    If there is a Neighbourhood Watch group in your road then think about joining it, if not then why not start one? You will get updates from your local police about what to watch out for in your area, and you will have the chance to get to know more of your neighbours. This is also a perfect opportunity for neighbours to keep an eye on each other’s houses whilst people are away on holiday.

  3. Parking

    If parking is limited in your area be as courteous as you can be about where you park. Our neighbours let us know when they are going to be away and offer their driveways as extra parking when people need it. People aren’t in the least bit territorial about their patch of tarmac and as a result it all feels very relaxed and friendly.

  4. Bins!

    Also know as garbage or trash cans. In England we have wheelie bins. In my part of Hertfordshire we are big on recycling and have four different colour bins. After a recent Christmas party where over sixty guests descended on our house (including a lot of our neighbours) we were left with a lot of recycling. One couple who had been away over Christmas and New Year and not used their bins offered us extra space. Now how’s that for good neighbours?

  5. The Sick and Bereaved

    One of the things I absolutely loved about my time living in the southern States of America is how communities rally together when people are sick or bereaved. You only have to sneeze and cartons of home-made chicken soup land on your doorstep. If you are bereaved then you don’t need to shop for food for months. A steady stream of people come to your door to offer their condolences and always bring mountains of food with them.

    This is a habit I have brought with me back to England and it is slowly catching on. One neighbour recently had her appendix out and she was inundated with some delicious soups and breads on her return. When my other neighbour’s wife died suddenly the whole street set up a rota to cook for the bereaved husband for a month. He is now the first person to take food round to people who are struggling, usually in the form of his excellent chocolate pie.

  6. The Lonely

    We all know that there is a huge difference between people living in solitude and people who are lonely. Young mums may be surrounded by a big family and still be lonely, where as an elderly woman living on her own may be perfectly content. That being said it’s always good to find out which of your neighbours are living alone and check up on them once in a while.

    The key thing in all of this is relationship building. No two people are the same and you can’t have a one size fits all approach to building community with your neighbours. You just need to get creative in getting to know them as individuals. When you have done that you can invite them to barbecues in your back garden, call on them for a lift to the airport in the dead of night, and be there for them when they lose someone precious to them. After all, aren’t we designed to be part of something bigger than ourselves?

    Are you a good neighbour? What have others done to be a good neighbour to you?

    Have a good one,

    Liv x