Ducie’s Diary: January

Regular readers of my blog will know I tend to use a loose monthly pattern for my posts. The first Monday is usually My Working World, a travel/geography piece, based on the places I worked in over the years. The second Monday is always an interview. The third Monday tends to be something from one of my Pause for Thought series on BBC Radio Devon. These three will continue through this year.

The fourth and occasional fifth Mondays used to be quite random, depending on what I felt like writing that week. But two years ago, I started using the last post of the month to provide a ‘monthly report’ of what I’d been getting up to. In 2018, I called this Pot Luck Club. Last year, it became Writerly Round-Up. And now it’s time for another change. A new year, a new decade even, so a new title, a new graphic and a slightly different approach.

In the first post of this year, I said I had made no writing resolutions this year and was going to go with the flow. This is partly to have more fun with my writing; but mostly because there’s going to be quite a bit more non-writerly stuff going on this year. So the new name reflects the fact that this year’s ‘monthly reports’ will be rather more mixed than before, and will contain non-writing news as well as the writerly stuff.

Writing in January

Having pushed myself really hard in November, and then taken my usual month off in December, I’ve not done a huge amount of writing this month either. Actually, to be honest, I’ve done virtually no new writing at all! But I have polished some of my stock stories, entering two for competitions and two for online magazines. Plus I’ve written proposals for two festival appearances later in the year. I’ll let you know how I get on with any or all of those at some point.

I had a wonderful rejection letter this month too. I entered a competition back in June and, when the date for notifications to winners came and went, I knew I hadn’t won and promptly moved on. But this month the organiser wrote to me, telling me he thought it was a strong story and nearly a winner. His feedback was specific and confirmed this was a personal letter, not just a stock response. And when I consulted the website, there was mention of my story, along with a couple of other near misses. A really kind gesture from the organiser and I will certainly be trying again this year as a result.

Sales and Marketing

As usual, there was a spate of paperback book sales in the run up to Christmas, and this has continued to some extent into January. So many social events over the holiday period; so many new people to tell about my books – this has a knock-on effect too. But there is also the fact that I helped a friend publish a book about his days as a Medical Missionary in Africa and Nepal. We put his book up on Amazon towards the end of last year and his sales are going quite well too.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t remind those of you working on your Tax Returns that there’s quite a bit of advice on finance systems and running your accounts in my Business of Writing books. And if your new year’s resolution is to get that book published at last, then do check out The Business of Writing Part 4 Independent Publishing which walks you through all the questions you need to consider in getting your book out there.

And finally, if you are a member of Amazon Unlimited, don’t forget that all my novels are now available to download and read for free.

Out and About in January

I have one ‘work’ engagement this month: on Wednesday 29th, I will be addressing the intriguingly named Pi Society in Exeter about my life as a writer. This was postponed from earlier in the month due to horrendous weather conditions. Here’s hoping it stays fine this time.

I spent a wonderful evening with a long-time friend (we first met when we were 3!) chatting over supper and then luxuriating in a viewing of Little Women. Once I’d stopped trying to remember the details of the book, which I hadn’t read for nearly sixty years, I settled down to thoroughly enjoy the film. Although we both agreed we had been right to leave the men at home on that occasion. I don’t go to the cinema much these days and tend to watch most of my films on DVD, but having seen the trailers, I will be making exceptions for David Copperfield and Emma.

I shared in a couple of ‘Christmas’ meals this month and have one more at the end of this week. If many more organisations decide to push the annual get-together into January, it will no longer be the case that our pre-Christmas diaries are jammed. And we’ll end up reverting to December – or pushing things back into February!

Other Literary News

After a second successful year of operation, Exeter Literary Festival is making a few changes this year. We will be focusing our events in two main venues: one for writing workshops and one for readers’ events. We will be bringing the dates forward a couple of weeks, and will be collaborating with Exetreme Imagination, the children’s festival that will run over half term. And we will be registering as a Charity. I’m going to be Festival Director, with responsibility for administration and project management. There will be lots more news about that as the months move forward and the programme is unveiled but in the meantime, if you are planning to be anywhere near the South West this autumn, make a note in your diary: 23rd to 25th October 2020: Exeter Literary Festival.

And for those of you who enjoy entering short story competitions, don’t miss the great one run by Exeter Writers. With over £1000 in prizes, including £700 for the winner, it’s got to be worth having a go. You have until 28th February to get your entries in. Full details can be found by clicking here.

Cancer Lifeline South West

A couple of months ago, I was delighted and honoured to be asked to be a Trustee of this wonderful local charity which helps anyone affected by cancer (patients or carers) through the provision of short residential breaks which include counselling, support and advice, provided free of charge to all comers. I joined the team at the start of this year and we have got all sorts of ideas for fund-raising over the coming year. More news on this anon.

Writers are Readers Too

In 2019, I set my Goodreads Challenge at 52 books; and actually read 63. So this year, I’ve increased my challenge to 65. And as I’m expecting to spend several weeks with my feet up recovering from surgery, that should be reasonably easy to achieve. To date, I’ve read 8 and am ahead of target.

One of my Christmas presents was the Edna O’Brien trilogy Country Girls. I’d not read any of her books before, but had been interested when I heard a snippet from the recent Radio 4 adaptation. Although brought up in the UK, I am half Irish, having both an Irish passport and a British one, and was educated by nuns in the 1960s, so there were all sorts of bells ringing for me as I devoured these three novels one after another. Here’s the reviews I wrote, all of which were 5*s:

The Country Girls

The first episode in the lives for Kate Brady and Baba Brennan; their childhood and teenage years in Limerick and Dublin in the 1950s. The narrator, Kate, is gentle, innocent and ill-treated by life and her family. Baba is altogether different. She’s much harder to like, for a start. The girls alternate between friendship and enmity, but always return to each other, or more correctly, Baba always returns to Kate. Edna O’Brien’s writing is beautiful: lyrical, funny, poignant – and for this Irish Catholic born in the 1950s, there are many echoes of childhood, especially during the convent scenes. I loved this book and can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy.

The Girl with Green Eyes

Also entitled The Lonely Girl in some versions, this book concentrates on Kate and her scandalous affair with a married non-Catholic. The scene where her family arrive to try and bring her home is particularly effective. Bleaker than the first book, it is equally enthralling.

Girls in their Married Bliss

In the final part of the trilogy, we hear more from Baba than from Kate, as the pair realise there are always consequences to their actions. O’Brien’s writing is beautiful, haunting, and becomes gradually darker as time goes on. The trilogy was a massive tome, at nearly 800 pages, but I just flew through it and finished the whole thing in less than a week. But there are episodes in the stories that will keep returning to me.

By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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