"FUIMUS - We Have Been"

"FUIMUS - We Have Been!" motto of Clan Bruce

All material on SHIMMERCASTDREAMS copyright of Marie Bruce and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Friday, 20 April 2012


I have quite a fragile relationship with memories and I have been pondering on how precious they are over the past year or so.  I am one of those people who cannot bear to be reminded of sad times, so I have the urge to purge the house annually of clutter and I sometimes throw away things that I probably should have kept.

I cannot abide looking through old family photograph albums.  Some people find comfort in having pictures of their loved ones around them but I find it too distressing to see faces of my lost relatives smiling up at me from faded pictures. I even get upset looking at photos of my mother (who is alive and well) and myself when I was a little girl as it makes me feel as if I stole her youth!

I also have the quite unnerving ability to blank things out completely; events that upset me, feelings of betrayal and so on, can all be air brushed clean out of my mind with remarkable ease.  On the one hand this is great as it means I never have to deal with more than I can handle at any particular time in my life; on the other hand it means that I sometimes forget important events and people, as if they never were and of course by the time the memories begin to surface it is usually far too late to take any constructive action.  Memories that are swiftly air brushed can take years to resurface, and even longer to piece together into a logical sequence of events. Maybe sections of the timeline will always be missing or maybe they will reappear, as fresh and vivid as when first experienced - the point is, one never knows if a memory once forgotten will ever be remembered.

Late last night I shared some music videos on my Twitter page; three very poignant songs about the fragility and importance of our memories.  The lyrics are soul stirring and beautiful, the videos haunting and emotive.  It got me wondering if men have the same kind of relationship with precious memories as women do?  It is usually the women of the household who put to one side the baby keepsakes, the nursery art, the family album.  Diary keeping is also viewed as being a feminine pass time.  Is it a responsibility of our gender to be the memory keepers for our family and for ourselves?  Do you have hidden secret memories and keepsakes locked away somewhere; an engagement ring from a previous relationship perhaps; or a love letter from an old flame?  Perhaps you have keepsakes from a lost child, a broken romance or friendship, an old injury, a holiday romance?

All this pondering made me realize that our memories, even the painful ones, serve a vital purpose; they offer us the chance to work through the bad times so that we can move on.  At the same time, happy memories are there waiting in our minds, ready to make us smile as we recall precious moments. Each memory is a treasure, especially the ones that were once forgotten and have resurfaced.  Yes, it can feel like being haunted by the past at times and it can be difficult to bring a memory out through the fog of say, amnesia or dementia; but such memories are never truly lost, only misplaced.

Being a pro-active kind of girl I have decided that I am going to take control of my 'memory files' by starting to create a Memory Box.  This is not something I have ever thought of doing before - I've seen memory boxes in the local shopping center and thought them a waste of money!  Now I begin to understand the benefits of having one.  I own a few treasure chest style boxes and one of these will be my new Memory Box.  I plan to fill it over time with special items; including photos of my time spent in Scotland, cards and keepsakes and so on.  I will put in a single photo of my family, all together on holiday and taken when I was about eight years old.  I want my memory box to represent my past, but also to remind me of the woman I have become today, so I will include some of my publishing keepsakes too.  I want it to be a very positive place; when I open the box and look through the keepsakes I want to remember happy events, achievements and the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of spending time with.  I want my Memory Box to be filled with happy memories...but that is largely down to me isn't it?  Most of all I want a place where I can place those precious  moments in time so that I don't forget everything that matters to me...I want a place to treasure my past, present and future.

That's my weekend project sorted then!  Take a look at the music videos on my Twitter page, listen to the lyrics and see what they conjure up for you personally. Do you have a memory or keepsake box? Do you plan to make one?  I'd love to know how you store your precious memories.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

WRITER'S DREAM; Piggy-Backing; Don't Do It!

Since I first began publishing my work I have come across a certain scenario over and over again.  Being a published writer is one of the few  jobs where complete strangers, even close friends, will tell you straight out to your face that they want your job and expect you to be flattered by their presumption that they can do it just as well as you do. They ignore the years of hard work (and rejection) any writer has put in to actually getting published and see only the end result of a successful, professional author being paid to write.  

At any social event or within any circle of friends there is always at least one person who wants to write and who sees fit to ambush the local author.  This type of 'corner the author' behavior is actually quite commonplace and one of the reasons authors are far too busy to attend parties!    What do such people hope to gain by monopolizing an author in this way? The nicest folk are simply looking to chat to someone who is of a like mind and who understands the struggle to get published, or to get past writer's block; in short they want free professional advice. Fair enough.  Others, however, are looking for a fast track to publication by pumping the author for editors names and contact details, which of course the author is not at liberty to divulge.  Still others are looking for a leg up into the industry via introductions to agents and editors.  This is an uncomfortable situation for any author to be in - we cannot simply hand out professional contact details of direct lines and personal email addresses - I would be appalled if an editor divulged MY contacts details to anyone who asked, and such editorial information is just as confidential.  This is easy enough to point out with no hard feelings when the conversation is honest and above board, but there have been occasions when I have been chatting in a social situation and I have not immediately realized that I am actually being pumped for information regarding my publishers and editors...this has only come to light later on when an editor has contacted me to inform me of a proposal from an unpublished writer who has dropped my name into their proposal letter. Very Badly Done!  If you are acquainted with a author and make use of their name when approaching one of their editors, said author will hear about it. You will also be marked out as a PIGGY-BACKER.  The editorial response to Piggy-Backing is  Delete & Ignore.

It is quite natural for someone who wants to write, to read something and think to themselves "I could do that!" and subsequently pick up a pen and give it a go.  Emulating successful authors is how new writers learn; it is an apprenticeship. However it is not the path to publication.  Emulation or fan fiction is a fun pass time; but it is not the way to build a career in the publishing world.  This is true of any genre including Mind, Body, Spirit.

Some time ago I was cornered by a wannabe writer at a belly-dancing class who said straight out that she would like my professional advice.  Fair enough.  I am happy to help new writers, especially when they ask honestly for my assistance as she did - it is the cloak and dagger approach which really gets my goat!
So this woman was chatting away telling me that she was two thousand words into writing a novel and she was hoping to publish - so far so good - until I asked what her novel was about.  Apparently she was writing a book about a boy wizard, his two mates and their magical adventures in school.  My appalled expression must have given me away for she then said "It's completely different to Harry Potter!"   I kid you not, this actually  happened. I could not have made it up - it was a priceless moment!

When I gently pointed out that she was indulging in a spot of fan fiction, which is swiftly side-stepped by reputable publishers as a plagiarism suit waiting to happen, she was offended.  When I asked her to tell me how her novel differed from JK Rowling's books, she said nothing and drew a complete blank, before puffing out her chest and declaring she was going to join Soc and NUJ.  I replied that the requirements for joining Soc is publication, while NUJ demand a body of published work as their terms of membership, plus one needs to be proposed and seconded by existing Members.  Ms Fan Fiction wasn't happy at all; I tried to explain that these trade unions are professional bodies - to join, one must be working within the profession they represent - and that she wouldn't expect to join the NUT if she wasn't a qualified teacher, or the NUN is she wasn't a trained nurse.  Needless to say, I didn't make a new friend that day!  I gave her my professional advice, just as she'd asked me to; but that wasn't really what she wanted to hear.

Piggy-backing is frowned upon within the publishing and music industries.  Publishers are fully aware that every writer they publish has acquaintances who will want to try to emulate that success by name dropping and riding on coat-tails.  This means that if you make such an approach the industry will recognize it as piggy-backing and will field you away to the rejection pile.   The author whose coat-tails you are trying to ride upon will also be made aware of it.

Bottom line?  The only short-cut to publication is self-publication.  The only self-publishing I have ever done is here on this blog.  I know nothing of self-publishing books via self-publishing companies as I have never done it, but this road is always available to those who want to give it a go.

There is no short cut to publishing via an established reputable and traditional publishing house or magazine.  Piggy-Backing is the best way to ruin your chances of ever being published. Don't try this at home!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Blue Stocking Library Days

My Dream Library.
Those of you who are following me on Twitter will know that I have recently been spring cleaning and reorganizing my study.  A space to write is essential for an author and as a lifelong bibliophile I like to have all my books in one room, with a comfortable place to sit quietly and read.  Being a bit of a blue stocking I have always had a fascination with libraries.  I love the idea of being surrounded by books and the written word; engulfed in halls of learning.  I have a crystal clear memory of my mother taking me to the local public library so I could get my very first library card when I was about six or seven years old; I was thrilled that so many wonderful stories were made available to me. It is one of the most precious memories of my childhood, and my mother can have had no idea at the time that I would grow up to become a successfully published writer.

Even as a University student in my early 20's, the thing I loved most was not just the traditional lecture halls and the opportunity to learn, but that the huge University libraries were at my disposal. I have a deep love of old fashioned libraries like the ones in black and white English college films; the kind where tutors wore black gowns and invited favorite students to debates over tea, toast and scones.  Alas, my Uni days were not nearly so romantic, but I did consume vast quantities of buttered toast and crumpets in the refectory with fellow students! I also developed a lasting habit of making reading lists which continues to this day.  Certain items of library furniture can set my heart racing; swish library ladders that roll along bookcases; spiral library steps that can be trotted up to reach the highest bookshelves; carved wooden lecterns; winged leather buttoned armchairs pulled up to a blazing fireplace; secret doors hidden in walls of books; a butlers tray filled with scones and crumpets...a library is nothing if not a space to dream and spin fantasies.

Having been privileged enough to study in such beautiful libraries I soon decided that I would one day have a library of my very own and I have achieved this goal. Although my study is not so large as I would like it does have walls of books, a beautiful globe like those pictured above, a tapestry and a mahogany  escritoire desk with secret compartments and pigeon holes.  It has a comfy buttoned leather chair and matching footstool, with a throw to snuggle up in when the weather turns chilly. It has floor standing candlesticks, spice red painted walls, a desktop lectern and a decanter of sherry!

I spend so much time in this room I have come to name such days my Blue-Stocking Library Days!  I can happily tuck myself away here at the back of the house with my cat Pyewackett curled in his basket beneath the desk.   I might not be writing; I might be reading a novel; conducting researched; making notes for a project; making reading lists; reorganizing the vast number of books within the bookcases; listening to music; recording my own songs or maybe even watching a DVD.  Whatever I am doing in my personal library I am very grateful to have this space and the solitude to enjoy the peace of it.

As I type the candles are flickering light and shadows across the multicoloured spines of all my books, incense is scenting the room with violet, a crackling fireside DVD plays on the computer to give the illusion of a real fireplace, and a festive glass of sherry gleams like rubies beside me.  This is where I will be over the Easter bank holiday... curled up in the library chair, feet resting on the footstool, warm and cosy as the rain patters against the study window.  Here I am going to fall into a new novel and enjoy toasted hot cross buns smothered in butter with an extra sprinkling of cinnamon. I even have a cosy pair of blue knee socks for when my feet get cold! Such is the style of my Blue-Stocking Library Days....how do you enjoy your reading time?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

BOOK NOOK; Entwined by Heather Dixon

I must confess that, being 38, I do not normally read teen fiction.  This novel Entwined was recommended to me via Amazon UK based on the fact that I do buy a lot of fairytale and mythology books.

The title intrigued me so I clicked on the recommendation and then clicked again to search inside.  Everything about this book drew me in from the stunning cover treatment ( I am a sucker for a castle and a ballgown!) to the blurb which hints at magic but gives nothing away.

I am an avid bookworm and as an author myself I can be tough on books.  It is very rare that I can pin point the exact reading moment when I decide to purchase a title; usually it is just a vague feeling of wanting to read a particular kind of novel, or wanting to read a particular author.  In this instance, as I read the opening paragraphs on Amazon UK I can pinpoint the exact moment the book grabbed me.
Here is the line taken from page 4;

"From the table next to the sofa, the old magic tea set clinked and clattered faintly, pouring a cup of tea in its pushy way."   

Those were the words which sold me the book. An enchanted tea set?! What's not to like?  A couple of days later the book arrived and I was gripped by a thoroughly original fairytale.  Entwined takes place in a magical world and follows the fortunes of Princess Azalea and her eleven sisters, each named for a flower.  After the death of their mother they are thrown into mourning and forbidden to dance, which is something they love to do. Dancing is the only thing they have left of their mother and so they make plans to dance in secret, with the help of a new friend.

Entwined is a fantastic fairytale novel about the healing powers of dance.  Set in a magical world which includes a spellbound palace, an enchanted silver forest and a sinister prince, the twelve princesses dance through their sorrow and grief in a winter wonderland located beyond the magical door of a secret passage, hidden in the fireplace of their bed chamber.  Here they can dance in secret; but there is a price.  The sinister prince is trapped by magic and he asks the princesses to find a way to free him.  The more they spend time with him, the more they learn to fear him.  Like all good fairytales Entwined is a teaching tool for young girls and the moral of the tale is Beware of strangers offering favors. The magic is subtle, silvery and filigree.  There are no Harry Potter like explosions of power here; the magic of Entwined is far more sophisticated than that, though it is beautifully written and each page sparkles with enchantments.

I wish the author Heather Dixon had written this as a screenplay, rather than a novel because it would make the most amazing film.  Dance is such a visual art form, and while the steps are well choreographed in descriptive passages on the page, for those who have little or no dance knowledge, it might be hard to visualize.  So for this reason, and because I would love to see the Silver Forest and dance pavilion brought to life, I really hope this novel gets picked up by Hollywood and turned into a cinematic experience.

Azalea is the main protagonist and the oldest sister, but my favorite character is actually Miss Bramble, second eldest and most rebellious - I can relate to her the most.  Entwined is a book about dealing with the deep pain of grief in a very positive way.  Dance is a healing restorative for the girls. Fathers do not always understand their daughters; family loyalties are tested during bereavement and blood ties are binding. The author is fearless in tackling these difficult topics in a very gentle and charming manner.  Romance waits in the wings for the three eldest sisters; a couple of hair-raising horse rides take place and there is comfort and joy to be found in the warmth of a beautiful, book lined library.   In short everything I love and can relate to is in this novel!

This is one of those books that I feel like I want to read again, immediately upon finishing it.  It is also one of those beautiful novels I am going to keep to myself and guard jealously - I will not be loaning this out to anyone  as I know they will want to keep it!  If you like fairytales, magical novels, dancing, spellbound tea sets and all things girly then you will love reading Entwined.  I highly recommend it.  I cannot wait to see what Ms Dixon writes next - something equally girly and fairytale I hope, but with more horses!  You can find the novel on www.amazon.co.uk