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Writing Coach Rosemary Dun on First Drafts & The Alchemy of Teaching Creative Writing…


Shoes and $&!££y First Drafts: The Alchemy of Teaching Creative Writing           


I teach creative writing both at an adult education centre and for The Open University. I approach all my classes with the same two goals: to pass on what I wish I’d known when I first started writing creatively, and to help new writers get in touch with their subconscious from which all creativity flows. Over the years I’ve witnessed magic in both my own and my students’ writing and lives. 

Raymond Carver wrote: “It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.” And that “a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing- a sunset or an old shoe- in absolute and simple amazement.” 

We live in a text-based world which isn’t necessarily conducive to creative writing. We write – text messages, emails, facebook, work reports – daily. But is this “creative writing”? 

For me, there are two components to creative writing.                                                                        


The Craft = ways of doing (i.e. the nuts & bolts)

The Art = ways of seeing (or perceiving – i.e. your view of the world).

Often, in order to access the “Art” of the process a good start is to move away from the keyboard. With freewriting by hand you’re outwitting your inner critic or editor, and telling your subconscious that you’re writing creatively. I like to get my students to free-write with pen and paper, to draw with crayon, to write in the dark – to dance and sing and pay attention to their writing. And to also develop the close observation, the being specific, the employment of all five senses, the showing with scenes, the day-dreaming.


I’m a big fan of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones, her timed freewriting exercises, and the writing of “$&!££y first drafts”, through which you can discover your voice, help your characters take on lives of their own, and channel flow and natural rhythms. Freewriting can take you to a trance-like state, and to where magic and alchemy can happen.  You begin to dream your writing. It comes and finds you (so do carry a small notebook and pen with you for when that happens). Your subconscious works away at plot problems, comes up with solutions, with new avenues, and with terrific unforced and specific prose and – Halleluah – before you know it, you’re a writer.   Teaching creative writing is such a privilege. I’m often humbled by students who have a breakthrough, or by those who say their lives are changed and enriched forever because writing is now in it. Most recently, a student confided that – after years of trying IVF and all but giving up – she felt “something unlock, and that she now has her long-dreamed-for baby. She’s convinced this is all down to a practice of free-writing. And who am I to say otherwise?  

Magic can, and does happen. Not always. But when it does … it’s … magic! All I ask of my students is to be open, to be brave, to trust in the process and their own innate story-telling abilities – and to let go of the wanting everything to be perfect. Embrace those shitty first drafts!

And so, thanks to all who have shared the magic, for those who are writing magic, and for the magic yet to come. Oh, and do start staring at those old shoes!

Rosemary Dun is a published writer of short stories and poetry.  She has performed poetry and run workshops at literary festivals. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University  and teaches creative writing at Degree level for The Open University.  Rosemary’s latest novel is with her literary agent ready for submission (good luck gal!).

Contact Rosemary via her website for  mentoring or tutoring 









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This months second Guest Blog is from Rosemary Dun!!!!

Rosemary is a very talented lady.

     She’s also a wannabe published novelist, poet, performance poet, mum, lecturer at Open University in Creative Writing, winner of countless writing competitions and all round dreamer!

AND she’s kindly found the time to write a Blog piece about her journey so far…  Take it away Rosie….

The Magic Of Writing    By Rosemary Dun

I have always believed in magic. When I was a kid I believed in fairies – they lived in our cupboard under the stairs. And I read all the books in the library with witches and magic of any kind. At home, I’d mix up concoctions in jamjars: rose petals, leaves, found bird feathers, searching for frogs and toads to add (don’t worry I didn’t find any). Then I would make up spells and experiment on my little brother. Or I’d invent stories to tell in the playground. I seem to remember there was a serial about Fatty, Thinny, and Middle Size, and their adventures in magical lands. I’d tell my brother stories as he listened, open eyed, in the dark. I’d track animals in the woods, search for birds’ nests, lie on my tummy on the ground for hours watching ants going about their duties in and out of anthills. I kept caterpillars in my pockets, had a jackdaw as a pet, visited local ponds with my net made from a bamboo pole and one of Mum’s stockings, I tried using my powers of telepathy on the fish in the fishpond, (I sorely wanted to be one of The Tomorrow People!), and rode ponies from the local riding school – dreaming of ponies, being in love with ponies, drawing ponies, cantering around the local streets on my imaginary pony called Rumble; setting up jumps on our lawn for show jumping with Rumble. Sometimes I’d just lie on my back on the local golf course, watching the clouds float by, as me and planet Earth hurtled through space. Magic. All magic.       

So, stories and writing were just things I was good at, at school. No-one in those days back in the 60s and 70s thought girls from working class homes could be writers. But that sense of magic never left me.

Instead, I left it, (the magic), for a while, and entered the world of science. Became a physio and then a social scientist. Got married, had a baby, and then the world split in two. My little brother – my playmate from all those days so long ago – was in a horrendous motor bike accident and life would never be the same again. But writing found me. I began to write about it. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Before long, I’d written a novel. I’d rediscovered that love, that magic, and it was healing. I began to go to writing groups, sent out stories, was short-listed for the Ian St. James Award with my first ever story. Got an agent who was one of the judges – the wonderful and much missed Maggie Noach. My first novel Long Shadows got as far as an acquisitions board at Hodder. ‘Never mind,’ said Maggie. ‘It’ll get published after you break through with your next one.’ I went to Bath Spa to do the MA, happy to be back in touch with my magic.

And now, some years on, after a long bout of ill health during which I managed to keep writing, (although I sadly didn’t have the strength to write novels but instead concentrated on shorter spurts of poetry), I’m back doing what I love the most. Writing novels. I began to teach creative writing, got myself a gig teaching at the Winchester Conference, where I met the lovely and truly magical Lola Jaye. Lola had not yet secured an agent, but I could tell. I could tell by her sparkle – and yes, by her magical aura – that she would make it. We bonded over teasing Simon Trewin – who’s lovely but did miss the chance to sign either of us on (you hear that Simon?) Just kidding …

So here I am. I now have a new agent – Kate Hordern – and am finishing the first draft of my new novel. I’m living the magic. Walking around with my new batch of imaginary friends, and stories, and conjuring up new spells, out of words words words. I love this quote from Raymond Carver (I’m more than a little in love with Raymond Carver – sadly now no longer with us). He said: “a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing—a sunset or an old shoe—in absolute and simple amazement”. I love that. He might well have replaced my love for ponies!



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The Trouble With… Writing a First Novel…

Written your first novel? Had a few rejections? Not sure what to do next? Need to read an article that just might motivate you?

A few years ago, I featured the very lovely Rosemary Dun on this very blog. Then, she was an unpublished author waiting for her ‘big break’ and now, it’s finally arrived… in the form of THE SAME PUBLISHERS WHO PUBLISH J.K. ROWLING!

But I’ll let her tell you all about all that…     

When Lola invited me to write for her blog I was delighted, and then I thought, crikey, where to start?

I could talk about my novel The Trouble With Love, tell you what it’s about, and how I wanted my characters – Polly and Spike and the others – to live and breathe and love. I could talk of the central romance, of the often hilarious trials of dating as a single parent, of mother/ daughter relationships, of the challenges of having a child who’s hard of hearing; I could talk of wanting to write about modern families – the melded, step, traditional, and single ones, or I could talk of second chances and the many troubles of love.

Instead, I’ve decided to talk about how I came to be in the pond (all will become clear . . .) and how Polly and Spike’s journey was woven into mine.

Polly first made an appearance in my life in a short story I wrote (she was younger then). I liked her, and she seemed to like me too, as she stayed around, in my head demanding for her story to be told – but bigger!

So began the first version of The Trouble With Love – featuring Polly and Spike. I loved the characters, thought the novel worked, and when finished, I sent it out to agents. The response was lukewarm, along the lines of, ‘You write well, we like Polly, but it doesn’t fit our list …’ And then I received one which said, ‘Enjoyed this in parts, you can write, but at the end I thought, so what?’

So what?

Hm. I could have given up, but I wasn’t going to. OK – those two words stung at the time, but this “So What?” agent did me a favour, because I reread the novel with fresh eyes and realised she was right: my characters hadn’t undergone sufficient change, things happened to them (they weren’t driving the plot), and at the end they were the same people as at the beginning (where was their emotional journey?) I could see what she meant, and could only agree with that So What?

I wasn’t about to give up on Polly, and she didn’t give up on me, as she kept jabbing away at my subconscious, jabbering away in my inner ear, demanding to be written.


No way was I going to give up. Not this close to achieving my dream of being a published novelist! Time for me to dig deeper.

I tried several new beginnings (but it was going nowhere), I attended creative writing master classes, read how to books, learned more and more about my craft and about the dramatic structure. Basically, I learned how to structure and plot by learning from those who’d gone before, and by actually writing my novel, and embracing what Anne Lamott calls that “shitty first draft”.

Not that it was plain sailing. In my personal life I had a marriage break-up to contend with, single motherhood to navigate, a demented parent to cope with and I became chronically ill. But I kept on writing, accepting that it would just take me longer than most; that my journey would have more twists and turns; that I would travel at a slower speed than some, but that if I kept going, I’d get there. Which I did!

Because – joyously –  the news arrived! A book contract with Sphere! With Sphere of Little, Brown – wow! The same publishers as JK Rowling and Val McDermid and so many other writers I admire.

At first I didn’t fully realise how big a deal this was. Then I told a friend about it, tempering my success by saying how I was a little fish in a big pond. ‘You idiot,’ she said. ‘You’re in the pond! You’re in the frickin’ pond!!!’

*For a limited period, grab a copy of The Trouble With Love for only 99p !



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Authors & Their Weird & Wonderful Writing Rituals…

Apparently Jane Austen played the piano before settling down to write and Charles Dickens wrote with a vase of fresh flowers on his desk. Indeed most writers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to have some sort of daily ritual they undertake before settling down to the task of writing. I know I have. My particular brand of writer craziness involves a simple stage of procrastination and once I have read all my WhatsApp messages and straightened my braids for the fifteenth time, I finally sit down and write. A glass of water must be by my side (you know, because I’m trying to be healthy now) and there must be no sound around me. Of course, this routine flew out the window during my recent two and a half year trip to Atlanta where the noise around me in a glorious little Café was reminiscent of a club and a cup of peach green bubble tea sat obediently by my side. It was a ritual, nevertheless. Now back in England, I’m back on the water.

I was lucky enough to speak with five author chums about their writing rituals.

C.L Taylor

‘I light a rose scented candle, put on ski socks because I can’t write with cold feet and play whichever instrumental music/soundtrack that fits the mood of the book. I also ensure I have some water and some chewing gum to hand!’

Catherine Banner

‘I keep the proof copy of my book on my desk because sometimes it’s good to remind yourself that whatever problems you are trying to solve in your work are problems you have solved before…’

Julia Blues

‘I like colour on my fingernails. I will paint them random colours simply because I feel it colours the story with more emotion and character. Something about seeing my nails fly across the keyboard with flashes of colour gives me a sense of power, almost as if I’m a superhero of sorts sent to save these characters from some crazed nemesis.’


Alex Brown

‘I have to be wearing my lucky poncho, or it can be on my chair if the weather is warm. I then light a scented candle to match the season of the book. I then choose a selection of my beloved Northern Soul tracks to evoke the right mood and then I’m ready to write!’


Rosemary Dun

‘My writing happens upstairs in my version of Narnia. It’s where I go and visit different lands and fabulous/ naughty/mysterious beings having adventures. My door has a sign on it which says, Away with the fairies . . . Back soon.’
Catherine has a theory of why writers undergo such rituals when undertaking their literary endeavours: ‘There are so many things about the process of writing that we can’t control. Publication can by a large extent, be governed by lucky meetings, random salvages from the slush-pile which is where my own first book was discovered, collisions of stories and moments which might have been quite different another day, another time.  So many aspects of the process aren’t really in our hands so perhaps it’s natural to be a little superstitious about the ones that are…’

So, what are your writing rituals?

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Like buses…

 …You wait for one post and two arrive at once.

I’ve been in Atlanta since June, so I do have an excuse (sort of).

During this time, I’ve been blessed to visit New Orleans and attend the Essence Festival for the very first time. Lots of celebrities were present and I did manage to listen to Alicia Keyes talk about the AIDS crisis, Mary J Blige sing her heart out and observe many just mulling around (sometimes aimlessly). I kept my cool though (unlike when I met Will Smith way back in 2008!)

* So there is something up with my computer today and I can’t post any pictures. Just know that a very nice picture would have gone here! 

 The history of New Orleans is fascinating. The Spanish and French influences in the architecture make it like no other US city I have ever been to.  Such a short visit this time, I did get to attend a drumming session in Louis Armstrong Park. If you get a chance to visit New Orleans make sure you check it out. These men and women meet every week in the spot where hundreds of years ago, African slaves danced and sang songs of their homeland.  When asked if they make every Sunday, one of the participants said; “We try never to miss a  Sunday.”  What heartfelt dedication.

What about the food? Well, the influences of those ancestors forcibly removed from Africa to the USA during the time of slavery is very real and present. I tried Gumbo for the first time and this immediatly reminded me of a Nigerian dish called Peppe Soup. I also had the best hot dog I have ever tasted  (please trust me on this) situated across the road from Louis Armstrong Park, called Dreamy Weenies!

 * picture

So I am back in Atlanta (home away from home) and continuing to sample what this city has to offer. The weather has been great, except for the almost daily rain…  I guess there had to be a reason for all the lovely trees.

Unlike many of it’s residents, I’m not driving whilst in Atlanta so have been getting around on the MARTA train and bus system. Now I am used to the fast and plentiful London transport system, so let’s just say that when the local bus only runs once every hour and not on the weekends, this becomes VERY INTERESTING.

But I am enjoying this ride.

Atlanta has the sunshine, the odd celebrity walking around any given area-but the best thing about here?  The people.

I like to just talk to people, find out their story. Is this because of blatant nosiness or fodder for a future book? Who knows?  But I have met so many wonderful people on this journey so far. In New Orleans I met a former 1960’s civil rights worker, now a retired Pastor who was once babysat by Mahalia Jackson; the man who drove my hotel shuttle bus each day, disclosed that he had once been tortured by the Taliban in  Afghanistan.  The list is endless and I get to add to it every single day.

It’s the southern hospitality that keeps bringing me back to Atlanta, without a doubt- oh and the sunshine!

So, as the title of this blog post suggests, you’re getting two posts for the price of one.

Next up, writing coach Rosemary Dun let’s us in to the world of First Drafts & The Alchemy of Teaching Creative Writing…

Enjoy (and sorry for the lack of pics- they were good too- blame the computer or slow internet connection!!)

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