I know I have been super crappy at updating lately, but dear blog, it’s not personal, everything has been on hold. It’s just one of those times when things collide: ill health, family needs, holidays, and things to do, always things to do.
Well after the lovely folk at The Pygmy Giant were so understanding about me submitting a story that I’d bought from Chris Killen, I thought I should send them something that I actually did write!
I am so happy that flashquake have published my tiny story ‘Let her sit in a flowerpot’ today.
One of my closest friends is a musician. He is the best bass player in the world, and he plays other weird and wonderful instruments too ( trumpet marine and yayli tanbur amongst many). Anyway, we were discussing why he feels that he has to make music and I feel I have to write. I said that it was our way of communicating with the world, but he disputed that saying that his music is often inaccessible, and he has no clue that he is trying to say anything at all. This actually chimed as truth with me as well. So, I pondered, and then replied:
Well, I have pondered this question before, and arrived at a rather simple answer. I write because I am compelled to do so. So, I write because if I don’t I do not feel right. I don’t enjoy writing, it’s like (massive cliché alert) blood from a stone at times. I am frequently disgusted by how inept I am at it. I realised long ago how much simpler and easier my life would be if I did not do it. Sheez, the time I would have to read and relax and do the housework and shop and watch films and talk to people without having to SQUISH everything so that I can sit and put words down. It’s a form of torture, this writing business. And I don’t write primarily for others to read it, but now I’m dipping a toe in the business, and hell yeah, I want some of that for me. I want to be a respected author. Dammit, I want recognition for being a good writer. However, I can equally see a time when I take said toe out of the water, and just write for me, but I know I will write for the duration of my life, in order to feel creatively balanced I guess.
Sometimes though it’s as if a magical process takes part. The words don’t feel like they belong to me. Perhaps I am merely a cipher for them. And when I have written something I consider good, the buzz is as good as it gets. Striving to be better, more proficient, working hard is all its own reward, it improves my writing, allowing me to be more accurate with the words I put down.
You know how religious people talk about folk being ‘blessed with a talent’, well, I think that talents come alongside having different coloured eyes, hair, intelligence, understanding, personalities. There’s a bit in me that is a writerly bit, a bit in him that is a music bit, a bit in my mum that is a gardening bit and so on. Everyone has a ‘thing’. This is mine. And I think that in order to be balanced we need to pay attention to our ‘thing’.
When I didn’t write I still created the words and stories in my head, I turn everything into fiction. When my friend was unable to play music he created pieces in his mind.
It’s not how we communicate with the world after all, rather it is how we translate the world.
Clearly this is my eureka moment! That rings so loud and true with me! Hurrah!
Me writing my words is me responding to the world around me. And it may not make sense, it may not mean anything to anyone else, indeed it may be totally misunderstood, but that’s not the point. The alchemy of the words, or the music, is the wonder of creativity sated, and a world interpreted.
I have mentioned that I write at The Fiction Workhouse
and it really is all kinds of ace. It is stimulating, thought provoking and a creative wonderland really. I feel very lucky to be working there, and I know that it is pushing me, teaching me, nourishing me.
One aspect of it is the 3 weekly short story rounds where one can post a story on a given date and the others in that round will critique it. In writing the crits one becomes a better writer by being forced to articulate what works, what doesn’t, why and so on. We all agree to it, but we’re human y’know, criticism can sting. Sometimes I struggle with how to say that a piece doesn’t work for me, without causing offence. This is challenging in a good way as it stops that lazy ‘Nah, don’t like this’ attitude, forcing us to examine why we feel that way, and to question how we would improve the piece. I generally take crits ok I think, and some have been excellent in helping me identify where a story is failing. It’s so good to get an objective opinion, and it’s a common thing to assume that because something is crystal clear in one’s head that it will be similarly obvious to a reader, it is helpful to have foggy areas pointed out and so on. Where I get MIGHTILY PISSED OFF though is when someone makes a judgement on the writer rather than just sticks to commenting on the story. I don’t think that personal judgements have any place in a critique at all. We are strangers to each other, we don’t all know each other’s personal situation, and so it is dangerous to make pronouncements and assumptions. It does happen though. Another danger is the ego wank crit: someone so delighted by their own intelligence and voice that they merrily trash other peoples work. Their defence is always going to be, but this is my opinion. There is no point in confronting them, they will have no awareness anyway, so it’d just be a fight for a fights sake, and I can’t be bothered with that. Hence my ranting here instead!
I do think it important to err on the side of gentle caution before making a proclamation about a stranger though. Saying that a writer seems to have no clue about what it is they are writing about is a strange thing to do unless one knows for sure. Telling someone who writes a lesbian love story that they write like one who has no clue what it means to be a lesbian, because the person critiquing is a lesbian and wouldn’t react in that way makes a huge assumption that the author is not a lesbian, for example. And it’s all supposition unless one knows. Grr argh.
I also frequently have to stop myself from posting messages of explanation, or defence, or just saying YES – BUT THAT WAS MY INTENTION! I can already answer my own posts with their firm “Yes, well you didn’t do it well enough then did you!”
Edit. And patronising! Sorry, please add that to the ego wank rant! Wanking and patronising.
I have always been a sucker for a blank page, ooh preferably in a brand new notebook, lovely. A morning is good, a fresh week is better, a new year is glorious, just full of hope. I am forever full of the same resolutions that I first made as a girl: lose weight, exercise, write more, be a better person. Not much change there. This year has been all right though, I have made progress in my writing if not my weight/exercise/being a nicer person wish. And actually, screw the nicer person thang, I am nice, and a little fucked off with people taking advantage of that!
So, good things have happened with my writing this year, and I can go into the next knowing that some people like my words. I am aiming to finish my novel by the end of 2008, it is a huge goal, and I want to focus and pour heart and soul into it.
I have learnt a fair bit too:
Other writers can be the most generous, warm, supportive, nurturing people. (They can also be destructive, bitchy, thoughtless, harsh and argumentative. So many egos! )
I have begun working with The Fiction Workhouse, and it has been ACE!
I wrote something that I knew wasn’t working, and I showed it to the people I work with on-line at The Workhouse. They critiqued it so thoughtfully and shone light on its flaws, it really brought home to me how solitary it has been, sitting here, typing away, trying to create stories with real depth and meaning. I am not a lonely writer any more, thanks to them. There’s a place I can go for inspiration, advice, critiques, help with craft etc. (Hark, is that the Cheers theme tune I hear starting up?) Anyway, it has been an illuminating experience being part of this team. I look forward to working hard with them in 2008.
The benefit doesn’t just come from sharing my work. By reading and critiquing others stories I get to learn more about what works for me, what doesn’t, why and so on…Invaluable.
Through The Workhouse I have discovered Flash Fiction. It was entirely alien to me before this year, and now I find it exhilarating and wonderful. I am still learning the requisite skills, but whoo, it’s fun and a great way to spark out new ideas and learn how to hone prose so that each word matters.
One must not be too reliant on the opinions of others though. I was told that something I had written wasn’t right, and yet when I read it again and again it was exactly what I meant and I submitted it as it was, with hope, and had a significant success with it. This showed me that sometimes other people won’t magically know what is ‘good’. Perhaps they excel in a different style or area. I must trust me.
I have read a lot this year. Although looking at the reviews here you wouldn’t know that. I made a choice not to write reviews of books that I had nothing good to say about. It was a hard call. I am a stickler for honesty, what’s the point of a wishy washy review? I’d rather read some real vitriol. Hmmm. But, as a writer I know how devastated I am by criticism, and the idea that a precious publication could be trashed by an unknown blogger makes me uncomfortable. I am such a grumpy reader though, hard to impress, hence the lack of reviews!
I have been reviewing for other people too. Pulp net asked me to review some books for them, which has been brilliant, and I have reviewed for The Short Review. In the new year I will be reviewing for the Waterstone’s magazine as well. Anyone else want a book reviewed? Just holler!
I was commisioned to write a piece on being a part time writer too, which was a fascinating change for me. I really enjoyed writing non-fiction, and getting paid for it too made me feel very professional!
There’s some other stuff that is happening, but until it actually does I don’t want to say for fear of, I dunno, fucking it up somehow.
Anyway, I am going into 2008 so much more of a writer than I was coming into 2007, which can only be a jolly good thing!
I’m planning a best of 2007 round up in the next day or so, but just in case I don’t get round to it:
Happy new year to you all
I met an author on Saturday. I didn’t know at first that he was, he looked just like an ordinary customer. Joke. In case that doesn’t translate. Anyway, he asked me for a book, and he got the title a bit wrong but I knew what he meant, and we had a bookseller/customer polite conversation. We were smiling and chatting, and he asked if we had any books signed by the author. I assumed he wanted to buy one, and said that whilst we do, yes indeed, have signed books, we do not keep them in one area. Then he said no, he is an author, and we sell his books, and he wondered if we would like them signed. He looked uncomfortable asking this, and I enthused loudly to try to overcome the embarrassment. He told me his name, I fetched his books, he signed them, he left. I put special ‘signed by the author’ stickers on the front covers, I displayed one title in a bay, slotted the others back onto the shelves.
When he went I looked him up as to my shame I haven’t read his work. Not only is he an acclaimed writer of novels and short stories, he is also an award winning poet, and a playwright. This is a man who has ostensibly ‘made it’. Yet he still thought it prudent to put himself through the uncomfortable squirm of asking to sign his books. Sensible though, the books are now being promoted in our store more prominently than they were before. But should he have to worry about such things? It clearly wasn’t a matter of ego with him. (Yes, there are awful booming do you know who I am kinda people who demand to sign, he wasn’t one of them.) I assume that he has been told to do his bit to promote his work wherever he can. I dunno, it seems to me that a writer is never allowed to stop the scramble for acceptance.
Talking to one-who-knows-such-things recently was rather depressing. They pointed out that a beginning writer may sub work in the hope of small publications and so on, leading to bigger prizes and hopefully, ultimately, you may be lucky enough to catch the eye of an agent. The agent may like the work enough to take on the writer. They then try to sell the writer’s work to a publisher, who then tries to sell the work to bookshops and media, who then try to sell the work to customers. If you’re not in a 3 for 2, or a Richard and Judy, or on a prize winning list, then what sets your work apart. At the end of the day, bluntly, who really gives a fuck about reading anything that you have to say? You constantly sub work in the hope that it will be successful, and I was told (not sure if this is true or not) that an average author will only make £8, 000 a year.
That’ s why it has to be a compulsion. Any other motivation for writing other than it being that thing that you do because you simply must seems rather silly. It is my thing, my compulsion, and so…on I go.
Today I am feeling not much in the way of positive. Instead I am feeling rather deflated, and not good enough, and rubbish, and sad, and glum, and like a loser. Oh.
So, I didn’t win. A lovely guy called Robert Williams did, and you know, he seemed ace which makes it very easy to wish him well. I look forward to selling his book, which I believe is a novel for young adults . The other 2 on the shortlist were also fab (Helen Raymond and Anya Stern) and it was a pleasure to meet them. The evening was tense though. I had to go to Shaftesbury Avenue for the ‘do’ in a club. It was worrying entering the unknown, going through a nondescript wee door, and climbing the stairs to who knew what. I was given a name badge, and entered a room where clusters of people were chatting and drinking. I felt very stupid, nervous and out of place and hastened to a corner. It’s hard to mingle when you feel small and uninteresting! I didn’t want to drink in case I got silly, and I couldn’t eat because I felt too nervous. Anyway, the announcement was eventually made, and I honestly had no expectation that the winner would be me so it was fine, and I smiled and applauded and was finally able to relax. A lovely bonus was that the 3 runners up were given consolation prizes of Book Tokens, which I will have enormous fun spending. (I have a serious pile up in the Staff reservations cupboard.)
One of the judges was Adele Parks and she was bubbly and friendly, and went out of her way to put us at ease and give advice and lots of ‘well dones’.
I can’t believe that for much of my adult life I worked in central London. I only moved a couple of years ago, and already I find it scary with its big, busy, briskness!
The stars outside my house tonight when I got home were so bright and clear I looked up in absolute awe and knew how tiny I am on this spinning planet.
The worst thing about tonight is going to be telling people that I have lost, and them saying never mind, you did really well to get that far, and me saying yes, I truly know that, and them thinking, oh, she’s really upset, and me knowing that I’m not, but also knowing that nobody will believe that and it all being a bit embarrassing instead of the huge whoo hoo ness that it was before they found out that I didn’t win. Does that make any sense at all?