On being ready to tell

20160312_182813I first went to the opera eleven years ago. I vividly remember the train journey into London, the panic on my then-girlfriend-now-wife’s face as we arrived late to find the doors closed, the view from our first seats and the move to our actual seats during the interval, the little bar in Covent Garden where we drank champagne and de-constructed ourselves on our first valentine’s. I do not remember anything about the opera itself.
On revisiting the Coliseum for Philip Glass’s Akhnaten last weekend, I explained that I couldn’t remember the finer details of the opera, or even the building, from the last time. I feel I wasn’t emotionally or mentally ready for the experience, that it was too big for me to connect with. After the second opera experience I was left with the memories of how the music made me feel, the way the symbolism on stage fulfilled the story in my mind, my relation to the height of the seats and the grasp of a hand in mine as we waited for the next act.

So why am I telling you this on a writing blog?

I have found myself drawing parallels with this experience and my current writing processes. Stories need to be given time to be told but the story teller has to be ready to to tell the tale.

I have never been a “one draft wonder” and I don’t really believe there is such a writer. Developing your characters, understanding the story’s theme, time, place, all takes redrafting. Some stories take much longer, the ones where you think you’re finished and then you get a hint of something misplaced or missing. If you find that happening, this is my advice.*

Look inwards. Try not to get lost in there, just look. What does this story mean to you? Who is this protagonist to you? What do they mean to you?

This is where that creative writing “rule” comes in – write what you know. I don’t think that it’s true for everything and finding out about new things or writing from a perspective utterly different to your own is part of the creative process but understanding what you know about yourself, your characters, those emotional and mental connections, is vital.

You don’t have to literally put this in the final draft – you just need to know. When you’re redrafting with this knowledge you will connect with the story you’re telling – that’s where the readiness lies.

What did the * mean above? This is advice for myself too, I tend to forget. I have been writing a story that I already thought was flying. Turns out it came back, and sat pecking at my feet until I really began to understand what the story meant to me. Stella Duffy gave me this advice last year at her masterclass for Word Factory – Stay at your desk until it’s all out. It won’t be comfortable, you may find yourself crying it out, but it will be worth it. Sometimes it takes time for advice to sink in. It will always be worth it.

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Dog Horn Presents – free launch event on Monday 8th July

doghornevent

Join me in conversation with Aliya Whiteley and Montague Kobbé on Monday evening at The Victoria Library, Westminster from 7pm. This will give you a chance to hear them both read excepts from their new books, as well as put your questions to them.

Tell us if you are coming along!

Aliya Whitely launches her latest novel, Skein Island: Marianne Percival has been summoned to Skein Island by its owner, the reclusive Lady Amelia Worthington. There’s only one problem – Lady Worthington has been dead for years. So who wrote the summons? And what does it have to do with the disappearance of Marianne’s mother? All the answers lie on Skein Island. It’s a retreat, and it holds many strange relics from a time of heroes and villains. At its centre stands a library that holds the stories of thousands of women. And underneath the library there is a secret that Amelia Worthington kept from the world. A secret that is about to be uncovered.

Montague Kobbe launches his collection of micro-fictions, Tales of Bed Sheets and Departure Lounges: Fifty bilingual micro stories strung together by emotional ties progressively weave a sense of reality that is both drastically different to that expressed in each individual tale and at the same time shared—perhaps even created—by the entire collection. The conventional tropes of love and lust, travel and sleep are deliberately approached with awareness of the tradition and a dose of provocation, sending the reader on a dangerous path along the outer edges of the cliché, hanging by the thread of irony and humour over the abyss of the banal. Form is central to a concept in which the short story has been boiled down to its most fundamental core: action. In this sense, context has often been totally or partially removed, giving primacy instead to the verb and its echoes, both within the collection and in relation to literary tradition. Equally central to the concept is the role of sound.

Word from the Factory floor

Today I was high fived by Deborah Levy.

That is enough to describe how I am feeling, even at almost midnight. I want to tell you why and how this came to be. Word Factory. Two exceptional words when placed together and carried by the wonderful founder, Cathy Galvin.

Word Factory is so many things and will become so many more, but at the core it is a literary salon that concentrates on short form fiction which takes place once a month in The Society Club in Soho, London. Around that, the team at Word Factory (and I am honoured to say that I am part of that team as an associate editor) strive to bring news of the short story to writers and readers in the form of video, articles, networking…the list goes on. Condensed, we love the short story. We also love writers and we are writers. If you want to get to the heart of the reasons behind the Word Factory and what it will become then please read this fantastic article by Cathy herself.

I stumbled upon Word Factory. I will call it fate because things have happened in ways I cannot begin the fathom but I am just grateful for them. I found myself surrounded by a high percentage of my past and present writing colleagues who seemed to have gathered in yet another twist of fate. More obviously, they just know how good Word Factory is at presenting the very best writing and bringing together wonderful people. 

I was hooked and came along to the next few Word Factory events before jumping on the chance to become one of the team. Since then I have been involved with supporting events both in London and now Leicester, maintaining and helping to shape the future of the website and this weekend I got the chance to be part of the latest Word Factory Masterclass.

Everyone who signed up for the Masterclass weekend knew it was going to be good, great even. With the line up of Adam Marek, Julia Bell, David Vann, Alison Moore, Carrie Kania, and Deborah Levy it was destined to be amazing. We arrived at Birbeck’s Keynes Library following a Friday night spent at The Hauntings, a Word Factory salon run from Earlsfield Cemetery – betwitching readings that continue their spell on us provided by Adam Marek, Alex Preston, Tania Hersham and Stella Duffy.

The masterclass started with Adam leading us through dream confessions, exercising ill-paired combinations and then circuit training through word cricket, blackout techniques well as musical and pictorial exercises. After a much needed lunch break, our refreshed brains were then expanded by Julia’s exploration of time management in fiction. Closing off the day, David taught us how style is a choice and that generosity in characterisation is worth the challenge it presents.

Sunday began with Alison showing us how are word choices can provide deeper context to the truth at the core of our stories. The readings in this session were outstanding, the group providing support and inspiration to one another. After lunch in the winter sun, Carrie navigated us through the truths and myths of publishing and working with an agent, with dry wit and much appreciated honesty. Finally our weekend was concluded by a session commanded by Deborah who assisted us in finding our voices and to express our strengths and weaknesses in writing. This allowed us to take control, reclaim our work and ensure that our strengths and weaknesses are no longer a secret to ourselves.

And so, where I began we can conclude. Perhaps what was not expected was how we surprised ourselves. By the end of the weekend, I certainly now know more about myself as a writer and about how I am going to continue my writing journey with even more skills and experience.

Word factoryDeborah and Alison will be reading at Word Factory on 30th November at The Society Club, alongside Michele Roberts and Dave Lordan. With hope, there will be further master classes in 2014, and if you wish to find out more and get tickets to the salon on the 30th then sign up to the newsletters on the homepage to get the latest news from Word Factory. Come on in and join us on the factory floor.

Room for a little one? Always at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School

There is always room for a little (or non-specific sized) one in this family; it is a family, a professional networking family of writers that I have been involved with since 2006.

Swanwick

The school has just celebrated its 65th year and it is still going strong despite rising economic problems. Delegates catch the bug known as “Swanwick magic” which may sound cheesey but is unavoidable. This magic is made by group meals where you discuss the day’s experiences, a wide range of courses and workshops that ensure any fledgling or experienced writer has the opportunity to develop their skill set, and inspirational speakers covering topics from the journey to screen (Deborah Moggoch & James Moran this year) to creating young adult fantasy fiction (Curtis Jobling did this perfectly after he stopped wowing us with his drawings and animations).

But the real magic is in the people. There are very few boundaries between writers – be that in experience, age or background. For a week you are simply a writer and that is the most freeing opportunity of all. I spend a lot of time with other writers at literary events etc and although there is a level of honesty about our work and lives, this does need to be built up over time if and when we see those friendly faces. Swanwick on the other hand is an intense week of relationship building. Swanwick is full of authenticity. Networking is done casually but with your annual return there are those that you want to see again and again. When there are 200-300 delegates you are bound to find someone or many on your wave length.

As a course leader and 1:1 mentor, there is a certain level of professionalism that I hope I adhere to. However, that did not stop me from letting my hair down at the last night disco or staying up until 2am talking with agents and writers alike. In fact I think this year, an early night was considered to be around 1am, and yes, I was up and at breakfast by 8.30am. Perhaps adrenaline is another part of the Swanwick magic! It’s also worth mentioning that even with all the teaching/mentoring I was involved with, I also started my next novel (2999 words on the procrastination free day) and worked out that I also want to screenwrite (more on that soon).

You will leave Swanwick with a notebook full of ideas, and iPad (or any other device…!) that won’t stop pinging with follows and friend requests, and friends that you cannot imagine your writing, or otherwise, life without. If you’d like to find out more about Swanwick, take a look at the website, follow them on Twitter, or like them on Facebook. The next Swanwick Writers’ Summer School will run between the 9th and 15th August 2014.

Baring all to conquer writing fears

photo (2)I’m a procrastinator. To extraordinary lengths. Creating this blog was an exercise in procrastination at the point where my first novel was being difficult. And then of course my writing freed up and my writing almost became the procrastination against having to work out what I wanted this blog to be. But this month I have hit a conundrum. I’m stuck with my writing, and I’m stuck with the blog… I should probably explain some more.

 

My fear for my current writing project is managing to give the characters and ideas justice in words. That my words will be enough. I’m at the beginning of my second novel, and worries about it are causing me to worry more about that than write. But when I’m honest with myself I know these worries are just excuses. I know I’m scared of the ideas/topic/themes I’m crossing into, because they are BIG. They involve dealing with human pain in a way I haven’t conquered in my writing before, and possibly that I haven’t dealt with in myself yet. Yes, I could choose an easier subject; but the thing is I actually can’t. The characters are there, mumbling but very much present and they need to be written.

But when I came to writing the blog, I found my fears lurking here as well and they are similar to the novel. I want to be able to provide a service whilst be professional, but also to be me and be honest. And that’s the fear – can I be both? Can I write a blog about fear and yet be professional about my own fears that are so personal? Well, I’ve done it now, and I can only hope it works.

I dealt with my fears about writing this and continuing the novel by doing what I do best – procrastinating. By researching fear and writing with it as a procrastination to doing the actual writing, I’ve found that I am not alone. I knew this before but now I really understand it. I may debate for many moons on whether all of that was worth sharing, but the research I definitely think it has it’s place for most writers.

You are not alone. This is something we all forget and yet it can take the simplest and hardest thing of reaching out to others to find this out. The hive mind of Twitter was the answer for me. I asked my followers (most of whom are writers or connected to writing/publishing): what do you fear about your career/writing? I fully expected to hear nothing, I wondered if I’d be brave or honest enough to answer the question myself. With time (once the Murray match was over) and a couple of tweets, some brave writers stepped forward with their fears and presented them to me. There were a wide range of fears; finding out that someone else had got their first, wasting people’s time, of the balance between writing and work, of the loss of the career. The most common single fear and overriding “theme” was failure, throughout the whole process of being a writer: of being able to write, of having their book in a bookshop, to get readers. Even failure to cope with failure.

These were the fears of excellent writers and I am grateful they took the time to explain how they deal with their fears. Their fears drive them to keep writing, to work harder on what they produce. When the fear gets too much they know to take time to step away and gain perspective, even if that means leaving a project until the fear has moved away or onto something else. They learn their lessons and hope they remember them for the next time. To just keep going.

If you’re scared of reaching out, there is always a video. In my research, I found that, like most topics, if you can’t broach the subject with another person then someone else will have filled in the blanks via google. I certainly don’t think it is the same as connecting with another human, far from it, but it can certainly add to the not alone feeling. I’d recommend the following sources if you do want to get some more thoughts on dealing with fear and writing with it:

I hope this helps you on facing your own writing fear. Sometimes it will be an uphill battle but it’s always worth the fight. Personally, I’m using Neil Gaiman’s words in my plight.

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

― Neil Gaiman

A chance to view life Through the Eyes of Strays

Released into the big bad world yesterday, Through the Eyes of Strays is a collection of Glen Krish’s best short stories from the past twenty years. Full of speculative, gut-grabbing, mind-expanding tales, this is a collection you will not want to put down – I’m certain there is something for everyone in this!

The collection is described as:

Misanthropes and misfits.

Society’s loners observing, and in some cases, changing the status quo.

An agoraphobic woman is forced to face a ruined world after months of isolation.

A father faces the death of a child in a world where genetic perfection has done away with such traumas.

A lovelorn man searches for the perfect woman and, ultimately, finds himself.

A nameless drifter absorbs people’s pain, the filth rotting their souls, until one day he can no longer bear this burden alone.

In these and many more stories, Glen Krisch crosses genres, disrupts and disfigures them, until something entirely its own rises from this alchemical brew.

Published by Dog Horn Publishing, it was a fantastic project to work with and edit, Glen has introduced me to characters and hidden stories that cannot be found elsewhere.

You can purchase the trade-size print edition from Lulu. If you’d like to find out more about Glen’s work, check out his website and blog.