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Thursday 23 August 2012

Thursday Thoughts – those exam results

Here in England and Wales (not Scotland – not sure about Northern Ireland) the exam results are released today for the General Certificate of Secondary Education. These are exams where our 14-16 year old school students strive to gain the highest grades :
The pass grades, from highest to lowest, are: A* (pronounced 'A-star'), A, B, C, D, E, F, G and U
A*-C are much more desirable and insisted on by many employers and educational institutions such as Universities. Those who fail a course are given a U (unclassified) and the subject is not included on their certificates.

When I was at school back in 1969 the exams were just GCE – General Certificate of Education. We had to do a mock exam a few months before the real exam – failure in a mock meant you couldn’t take the real thing. 
I remember battling unsuccessfully with the teachers about taking the DS (Domestic Science ( i.e. cookery) and the Maths Mock. I was (am!) a hopeless cool and therefore hated cookery; I dreaded that exam as I knew I would mess it up.  (I did. I failed.) But Maths was even worse. I pleaded with the teachers to not sit that mock exam. “It’s a waste of time” I said. “We all know I am going to fail – wouldn’t it be better for me to use that time to study the subjects I am good at?”
But no, I had to do it.
I got 3% (the first three easy questions) right. Massive fail. Well there’s a surprise.

English Language and literature I eventually got good grades for (I think B’s, but honestly can’t remember) A good grade for Religious Knowledge as well – I sailed through that exam, finishing the questions with half an hour to go, so asked for more paper and wrote a story instead. 
Trouble was, all the other girls (it was a Girls School) thought I was still answering the exam questions so were concerned that as I seemed to be writing loads, so should they. After the exam when I said (rather astounded that they didn’t realise this) that I was writing a story they wouldn’t speak to me for a week. A bit hurtful, but who needs silly people as friends anyway?

I was also annoyed with Art. I wanted to take the proper GCE but the school wouldn’t let me, I had to take the lower grade CSE (Certificate Secondary Education)  One of the “things to do” was to make a child’s soft toy. I wanted to make a felt dragon. The pattern was a little complicated, but looked fabulous – I intended to sew sequins on the hind quarters and legs and have gauze for the wings …. But the teachers wouldn’t let me do it. So I made a stupid bull instead, which went straight in the bin afterwards because I had no interest or enthusiasm for the wretched thing. 
To prove my point, after leaving school I made the dragon for myself. It was probably not too well sewn (I also can’t sew) but it DID look very striking. 

My careers talk was also useless. I told the Career’s Mistress that I wanted to be a journalist (because I wanted to write – but I thought novelists were clever, rich, people who had university degrees and such.) She laughed. “Don’t be silly Helen, how can you be a journalist? You can’t type.”

So just for the record. Not having good exam grades hasn’t made the slightest difference to me …. And I still can’t type.

There really is more to life than bits of paper with a grade on it. Great if you are academically minded and can achieve in exams – but if you are not, if you are dyslexic, for instance, then so what? The world doesn’t only need teachers, bankers, accountants, secretaries, office workers etc – we also need butchers, bakers, car mechanics, gymnasts, footballers …. Dustmen, supermarket shelf fillers…. In fact, we’d probably survive without the academics, but we wouldn’t last long without the cooks and the cleaners.

So if you, or someone in your family has achieved good grades today – well done. But if you haven’t…. well, it really isn’t the end of the world. Go out and do something you ARE good at. 
Make the dragon, not the silly bull.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

When the writing is done...

..the worry begins. (Tuesday Talk)

I have finished writing Ripples In The Sand. Yay!

Due for publication late October
That feeling of writing "the End" is wonderful, especially when one thing after another has contrived to put the kibosh on getting the thing written.
First my ex UK publisher went bust, & the crook who ran the company didn't return any files to anyone  - so I had to completely re-edit previous draft copies.

I then found a new UK assisted publisher  - the fabulous Helen Hart of  SilverWood Books . So I had an enormous amount of marketing to do to get the new editions off the ground. Then other personal stuff - you know, that little thing called "Life" that will butt in at the wrong moment....

There were times, these last few months, I will admit, when I very nearly scrapped the project and gave up this silly job of writing... but what has kept me going is the wonderful friendship and enthusiasm I receive from you - my readers.
I couldn't/can't let you down. Too many of you have developed a fondness for my Jesamiah (and my other novels) I kept going because although few of you realise this, your energy has kept me plodding on, step by slow step. Thank you

So, together, we made it!
The Fourth Sea Witch Voyage has gone for its full edit. The copy edit and proof read is next of course, but the initial hard work is done.


This is where I bite my nails and worry. What if it is no good? What if the plot is rubbish? The characters don't work - it's all a load of nonsense?
What if my editor and my two dear friends who are my "readers" use the PC equivalent of a red pen over great chunks of it?

I have told them to be honest - there is absolutely no point in them saying "this is good" if it clearly isn't.
But there will still be that massive gulp when I get the feedback, the quivering lip, the, "Oh, but I liked that bit" .... even so, I will listen to their comments and do as they advise (unless there are scenes which I have written in deliberately because they are setting up the plot for Voyage Five.)

Now that I am self published here in the UK I pay my editor for her time and input. Yes it is a fair bit of money - but it is money very well spent, for no writer can edit their own work.

If you are going to self publish (or even if you are looking for an agent / publisher) don't rely on Aunt Ada who used to be a P.A. or your niece Amy who is a teacher to do the edit for you. For one thing close friends & family never tell you the honest truth in case they offend, for another, most readers who are not professional editors haven't a clue about the technique of writing. If you do have a friend who is willing to be brave and say: "This scene/chapter just isn't working" - then value his or her honesty because outsiders can see what you can't - that the writing drags, the characters are out of character, too many words, the wrong continuity etc. You know XX is happening in chapter 17 because of YY happened in chapter 2 except you've forgotten you deleted YY - and now it doesn't make sense to a new reader.

I value my editor because she brings the sparkle to the uncut diamond.
All the same, I have my fingers crossed for not too much red pen....

No idea who designed - photographed this
(or who originally posted it on FB)
 but thank you its brilliant!
Tips for writers: Discovering the Diamond by Helen Hollick and Jo Field available on Kindle

Amazon.UK  at £1.54 at $2.41

(if you purchase and find it useful please leave a comment on Amazon - thank you)

Thursday 9 August 2012

I don't want to brag but....

I can't fit into anything else though - thank goodness for elasticated waist bands!