Enjoying the process of writing

By Nora Vasconcelos

Ian

“I think Artificial needed the time it has taken me to write it, to understand where the characters were going, and what journey the book would take me on.”

One of the most amazing things about internet is the way it connects us to the rest of the world, giving us the chance, not only to learn most of what happens everywhere immediately, but also, to achieve goals that for some time they might have seem difficult to reach.

That is the case of the international online challenge that every November thousands of writers around the world take. Thanks to the initiative National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, many manuscripts are completed in one month, from which, published and unpublished books give a sense of completion and success to those who dedicate their days and nights in order for them to make their dreams come true.

Last November, I met Ian Robinson, a writer from Hertfordshire, England, who lives with his wife and family, as well as with a multitude of pets. At that time he had just started with the NaNoWriMo challenge and I found very interesting how this project became the incentive he needed to complete an old manuscript.

Ian spent most of his early years living abroad, and worked in the public sector for 27 years until retiring this year, then he launched his own business, Bladeshunner Ltd.

A little more than one month has passed since the beginning of our conversations about his writing aims, and now, that he’s achieve his goal, he’s been very nice and has shared with me some of his experiences while working on his manuscript:

How was it that you decided to be part of the NaNoWriMo challenge?

I used it as an opportunity to complete my first novel rather than starting a new one. My novel, Artificial, had been with me for over thirteen years and I was half way through, so I decided it was time to finish what I had set out to complete. I had also had the privilege of meeting other writers and authors who have provided advice and encouragement.

Once you committed yourself to this challenge, how difficult was it to go on with it?

I think writing is as tough as we wish to make it. Personally, I try and enjoy the process, and if that means a book takes years to complete, then so be it.

I don’t believe in forcing myself to write a certain number of words each day. The discipline of writing each day I found to be the most beneficial thing. It makes you routined and gifts you the space to do what you enjoy. I reached the 50,000 word limit simply because I wrote more on some days than others.

I think Artificial needed the time it has taken me to write it, to understand where the characters were going, and what journey the book would take me on. After all, there are plenty of things in life we have to do that we would rather not, so why make writing one of them!

Which was the toughest part of achieving your goal, and how did you manage to cope with the difficult times?

The toughest part was giving myself the time to write, giving myself permission to write, that was the biggest challenge. My writing times were when the kids were all in bed, then I wrote. Having my family’s support during the process was a major help.

What is your manuscript about?
Artificial is about following one man through a year of his life. The main character is a man called Arthur Wint, an unassuming type of guy who is in his late thirties, living at home with his mother.

The book is set in the mid-eighties, just before the Miners strike in the UK, and is set within the county of Nottingham. Arthur is a gardener by trade and he works for an eccentric retired Psychiatrist. From his interactions with her and others, we see how his life evolves. The book is a mixture of humour, life, music and crime!

What was your inspiration for this novel?

In the beginning it was to present my wife with a book I had written, as she collects first editions, particularly the first thousand Penguin books. This still is my purpose, but in addition I also wanted to write a book that a reader would find entertaining and thought provoking. I intend when published to donate 10% of year-end sales to the Muscular Dystrophy Charity.

In my spare time, when not with the family, I enjoy music, play drums, I’m an ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy campaign, and play wheelchair basketball with The London Titans.

Now that you’ve completed your manuscript, what’s next?

I have three other novels I outlined when I first started Artificial. I kept the notes and will look at one of these to resurrect it and continue with it whilst editing this one, and looking for a publisher. But as in life, where next?.. is always an open and unknown area.

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Weekly Photo: Converge

By Nora Vasconcelos

Converge by NVS

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The surprising guitars of Mexico city

By Nora Vasconcelos

guitars mexico df

 

Beyond the continuous hustle and bustle that characterizes the capital of Mexico, there’s always something new that transforms this city into a magical place.

Very often, unexpected pieces of art pop up on the streets and manage to surprise locals and visitors with their colorful forms and themes that usually bring a smile to anyone who spares a second or a minute from their usually tight schedule.

A recent example of this was an installation presented in different areas of the city by Guitar Town. Thanks to this initiative several 3-meter high guitars showed around the city different characteristics of the Mexican culture, both ancient and modern.

The guitars are gone now, but the photos and the good memories that these unique pieces of art brought to many people will remain for a long while.

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Weekly Photo: Covert Art

By Nora Vasconcelos

Cover art by NVS

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Sharing the love for jazz with little kids

By Nora Vasconcelos

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A little while ago, while listening to a Jazz concert, I found myself quite happy to see that there were many children around.

As the concert advanced, one little boy, about 4 years old, started to dance following the enjoyable notes that came from the instruments played by the musicians on the stage. At some point the little kid lost his balance and found some support on my chair.

I smiled at him and helped him to regain his balance and cheered him up to continue dancing, as his dad looked happy I was encouraging his little son.

This experience made me realize how important it’s for new generations not only to get to know the Jazz and Big Bands classics from the Golden Age, but also to enjoy them.

Wondering what else it could be done to share with little children the love for Jazz, apart from taking them to live concerts and playing jazz music to them, I came across with a wonderful book called Who was Louis Armstrong?, by Yona Zeldis McDonough, and illustrated by John O’Brien.

The edition, designed to be read by children, tells the story of Louis Armstrong, since he was a little boy growing up in New Orleans, from the time he sold newspapers in the streets to help his family out, until the time he found his first cornet in a pawn shop.

Presented with lots of illustrations and a big nice font, the story continues up to the times when Armstrong played in Chicago and New York, along with the good and the bad times.

The books also includes fun materials that talk about the history and development of Jazz in the United States, the interaction between Steamboats and Jazz, the several influences that have become part of this music as well as the main instruments that form part of it, and some popular terms.

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Happy with my book, I got even happier when I learned, some time later, that Chris Raschka, writer and illustrator, has also designed and published some children’s books with which he inspires very young readers to get to know the life and work of jazz musicians with titles such as Charlie Parker played Be Bop, Mysterious Thelonious, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra.

Some other children’s books that talk about jazz musicians are Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

With this, my hopes are that more are more kids will grow up learning about Jazz and ejoying its joyful melodies, which hopefully will bring happines to their lives and to all of those who will happen to be around. And who knows, may be, in the future, these young readers might become the next Jazz starts!

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The dream of Crusing the Panama Canal… and writing about it!

By Nora Vasconcelos

panama canal photo

As it often happens we save things to do them “someday”, but for Sunny and Al Lockwood a car accident made them decide that “someday was today” and then they agreed that it was time for them to go on that long dreamed cruise that would take them from San Francisco, California to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, traveling for 17 days aboard The Zuiderdam, a cruise ship which also would sail from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic through the Panama Canal.

But the dream didn’t end there, from their experiences, Al and Sunny wrote a book: Cruising Panama’s Canal, savoring 5,000 nautical miles and 500,000 decadent calories, published by Front Porch Publishing.

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“We came up with the idea before we left on the cruise. We were reading books and articles about the history of the Canal in preparation for our cruise, and the history was so dramatic, so fascinating that we thought describing our trip through the canal would be interesting to others,” tells me Sunny, while talking about their book.

“Since I’ve made my living as a writer (for newspapers and magazines), I go through life with a notebook and pen in my hand. And Al almost always has a camera. So the idea of writing about our trip seemed pretty ‘normal’ to us.”

So, after 17 days cruising, and one year working about 5 days a week on their book, “writing and re-writing, cutting and throwing out stories, adding stories, trying to shape and polish”, Sunny and Al completed a book that invites the readers to be part of this literary trip, like good all friends who get together to share their traveling stories, from the moment they booked the trip, to the time they boarded the ship, the amazement that came from finding such an ample art collection aboard, as well as the cooking classes, the fun and relaxing times and the unexpected and surprising experiences.

Page by page, they take the readers along with them through the different areas of the ship, share their advice on how to keep fit and healthy, and their thoughts on how to transform the desserts time into magical and savory moments whenever Al has the chance to indulge his sweet tooth and write about it.

“I know a fair bit about desserts because I just love eating them. I also love cooking—baking especially, but I’m purely self-taught. And every time I find something really unusual—the Sacher Torte, for example, I’ll research its history (that one’s fascinating),” says Al when I ask him about his deep knowledge on the subject.

Al and Sunny also share their experiences on how to make the most of the shore excursions that, in their case, took them (and the readers along) to visit places like Zihuatanejo and Huatulco in Mexico; Costa Rica and its beautiful natural wonders and its unique Doka Estate and Coffee Plantation (a real paradise for coffee lovers); Cartagena, Colombia, and Half Moon Cay, Bahama.

And when the long awaited time comes to cross the Panama Canal, they share in great detail, step by step, all what it takes for a ship as big as The Zuiderdam (operated by Holland American Line), to fit into the different sections of the Canal.

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Funny, entertaining and informative, Cruising Panama’s Canal invites everyone to go along on this journey “of thousands of miles and tens of thousands of calories”. Because this book is much more than a travel guide, this is a book that “has been a labor of love and sharing”, as the authors state on the acknowledgments section.

* All the images and photos courtesy of Al and Sunny Lockwood

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Weekly Photo: On the move

By Nora Vasconcelos

On the move by NVS

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