Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas Eve

Noah last year and his Christmas Tree
Happy Christmas Eve everyone. It is a day I love. The excitement and glory of it all particularly as we share our time with little people who just make it magical. I am so lucky, I know, to live so close to mine. I know lots of people who will be apart from their families over the next few days.

Though it is a beautiful time, it is also a very difficult time for many and for many reasons. For our family there are always echoes of loss. My father died very close to Christmas having been taken ill on Boxing Day - Sally Ballet always blames her husband as both he and my father got very drunk together while her husband was wearing a leopard print thong (Don't ask but rest assured it was over his trousers!). My eldest son has never got over it and hates Christmas with a passion in part  because of it. Wish I could give the magic back to him.

For me when my children were young it was also a joyous time until Christmas lunch when a sadness would start to descend as they would be going to their own father on Boxing Day. For me Christmas ended then and the Christmas decorations would be down just after they left. I have to say though I was always very lucky I know many people who have to have their children in turns at Christmas  when their marriage breaks down. My ex never asked me to do that and I will always be grateful.

I am counting my blessings this morning despite living at the top of a hill and quite open to the elements and despite a lot of noise I am lucky that there has been no damage to our houses (and we still have power a rarity here I can assure you when we have a storm).

But more importantly I am counting those blessings as we were reminded of the fragility of life yesterday when Noah was taken very ill, very suddenly,becoming blue and floppy. Luckily he was at the GPs at the time and was raced into a treatment room where several nurses and the GPs worked on him. His temperature had gone so high and his tonsils were so badly swollen they were impacting on his breathing. How do you explain to a toddler that if he doesn't swallow the antibiotics and painkillers he will spend Christmas in hospital on an IV drip? Thank goodness with the resilience of childhood by the afternoon he was a bit better. But also thanks to the staff of the NHS, many of whom I know (and including members of my family), will be working over Christmas. Thank you all (plus all the other emergency services.)

I hope your Christmas is joyous however you chose to spend it. And I will see you the other side.

In the meantime the a song by the first love of my life....*sigh* A bit of David Essex and Winter's Tale




Friday, 20 December 2013

Serendipity - or how a moment in time can change your world.

Andalusian School of Equine Art
It is a strange feeling this morning as when I looked at my phone I noticed the date. 19th December - nothing spectacular about it really except it was the day in 2000 that changed my life.

It was the day that I had surgery that went wrong and meant I could no longer eat. I went through hell in the first year but once they fitted me with a PEG tube (tube into your stomach through which you are fed directly) I started to take control of my life again. It was suggested I might want to just sit in the corner and wait to die (not the exact words but the implication) luckily for me I have a specialist nutrition nurse who didn't believe in that idea either.

As a direct consequence I lost my business and was unable to work but instead I went to the University of Winchester to do a degree in English which happened to have Creative Writing modules. I had no idea what  that decision would mean for me. It changed my life totally. I couldn't have done it though without the support of my children who were all young at the times and never questioned my choice, just stood by me all the way. Thank you C, L & T xx

That surgery on this day so many years ago was serendipitous. I have met some amazing people who have been so inspirational and supportive, many of whom have actually changed my life and taken me in lots of different directions that I could not have expected. I wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for them  and their belief in me. Luckily most are still part of my life - you all know who you are.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of writing a paper with a good friend about the early days after the surgery. If you are interested you can read it here

The picture above was taken when on a research trip earlier this week for my latest novel. How lucky am I to be able to undertake research like this? (PS Thank you IC for the Christmas present!) I have been to France in the name of research too. I have been all over the UK and to the US giving academic papers. As well as writing a chapter, with AM, which I am very proud of, on the representation of drugs in children's literature. I am currently working on aforementioned novel and an academic book, which I have been commissioned to write about writing young adult fiction. The world never stands still.

Through my work I was lucky enough to come across IC and that meeting changed my life also. It has been exciting year being involved in Golden Egg Academy and watching so many aspiring authors grow.

None of this could have happened without that moment when the surgery went wrong. Today is a day of celebration for me. Don't get me wrong it hasn't been easy but it is amazing what you can do with support from families and friends who are there to stick the pieces back together.


This picture was a gift by AM and it is entitled 'It's Never Too Late,' by Philip Dunn. This is my mantra and will take me into next year too. See it's never too late but you have to be willing to embrace change and make the most of it.

My world is changing again, my sons have moved out and am finding myself on my own for the first time ever. The labels of life have disappeared but this picture is going to take pride of place in the house as I reclaim it as mine.

I am not going to apologise for this indulgent blog post. I just wanted to say as the picture says...It is never too late...Go on follow your dreams. I did and have never been happier.

I am a great believer in having a sound track to my life. As part of this I have decided that this year in my blog I am going to share music that I see  as part of that sound track. The following piece has played a large part in my life right from when the surgery happened and in many guises including on the day of my PhD viva. This is Kate Rusby's version of  'You Belong To Me'






Sunday, 1 December 2013

Do you write gaps into your story?

Mind the gaps or join the dots - you choice
Maria Nikolajeva is writing a fascinating sequences of blogs at the moment and one really caught my attention the other day. She was writing about 'Gaps'.  The idea that reader's anticipate and want to fill in these gaps particularly struck a chord. I particularly liked Aidan Chamber's idea that didactic texts have no gaps. (It is an essay I must find) I felt better about the number of times I have been telling my own students recently to leave clues but don't tell the reader everything. Leave them space to engage with the text.

I have been contemplating this idea for a few days and yesterday I found myself writing a ''gap' in. I only found it when I looked back at what I had written during the day. I had left that space ready for my reader to make their own decisions. I'd left, as Blanchot suggests, questions on the page and it is up to the reader to interpret and answer them in their own way. All based on that cultural moment that I've spoken about before. I realised that the gap I left required some historical knowledge to fill. Is this a problem? I am not sure it is.

I would like to say I had thought far enough ahead to plan this 'gap' but I hadn't. It just happened and was a natural part of the writing process. It was an integral moment in the story, a raised eyebrow and a shifted sheet. As I said I hadn't planned it but I started wondering if an unplanned 'gap' is more effective than a planned 'gap' that is inserted during the editing process. This is something I am going to have to explore more, I am intrigued. When I have made a decision I'll let you know.

Do you deliberately write in gaps?

And here is a bit of my most favourite new man...Josh Ritter and Empty Hearts

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Storytelling in the contemporary world

This quote from Walter Benjamin came to mind this week 'Familiar though his name may be to us, the storyteller in his living immediacy is by no means a present force. He has already become something remote from us and something that is getting even more distant.' He wrote this in 1936 a time well before the Internet when books still ruled the world to a certain extent. It came to mind because Charlie Redmayne, the UK boss of Harper Collins, stated that publishers have to take storytelling back from their digital rivals in an article in the Guardian last week. His argument is that they need to think in terms of content for games players, tablets and other devices. But is this really new and something that needs to be discussed? The publishers that I have been in communication with over the last few years have been thinking in terms of this for a very long time and it is not just the start-ups that I am talking about. But maybe it is just another indication of how children's publishing is ahead of mainstream (adult) publishing.

Story is one of the most important part of children's writing. Publishers want a good strong story that has a great concept behind it. A child or teenager is not as tolerant or forgiving as adults of books that take a long time to get going and are full of flowery language and description. (How many of you actually got to the end of Captain Corelli's Mandolin?) Children and young adults want action and a story that moves fast. Could this also be why so many adults are turning to young adult fiction rather than their own? We live in a world of micro moments wanting almost immediate gratification.

I don't think the storyteller has become as remote as Benjamin suggests - however, we may not always know their name these days - instead the storyteller is coming in a multitude of formats. All of which are readily embraced and so they should be. When writing you need to think in terms of multi-platforms and be open to the idea. The book (whether ebook or hard copy) is still important but there are elements that need to go along side.

Computer games, apps, comics, magazines, TV and films all have narratives. They are all embedded within story telling that is because we are homo fabulus, we have to tell (and listen to) stories. This may be around the dining table, over a drink in the bar, in the school playground, wherever, we will tell stories about the events in our lives. In the same way if someone is talking to us about their own experience we will often counter with our exploits.

When writing you are creating vicarious experiences, opening up those opportunities for a reader to enjoy the world you have created. We need to be aware that many will now expect that enjoyment to be enhanced by the opportunity to engage with it on a multitude of levels, so next time your writing, think how many ways you could tell your story...

And here is a bit of Regina Spektor to make IC smile ;-)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Authors For The Philippines

On Monday 11th YAF author Keris Stainton put up a post on Facebook saying that fellow YAF author,  Keren David, had suggested that she ran an auction again for the people in The Philippines who were suffering so much following Typhoon Haiyan. Keris had previously done this when Japan was hit by tsunami and had raised £13,000.

For many of us the Philippines had become very familiar to us due to the ever bouncing and inspirational Candy Gourlay and her book Tall Story, which was partly based in the Philippines and where she originates from. This seemed personal now and suddenly masses of children's authors were offering whatever they could. Candy was our friend and her country was in trouble.

It is now the 14th November and at the time of writing there are 206 items on the auction list with still more being added all the time. There are gifts from authors of signed books, manuscripts (Meg Rosoff), the opportunity to name a character, school visits, meet down the pub (Anthony McGowan and Andy Stanton) to name a few. There are agents and publishers offering a chance to have your MS looked at. At Golden Egg we felt we wanted to do something so I contacted Keris and she kindly agreed that we could offer a place on one of our workshops

I cannot imagine that Keris had any idea how huge this was going to get again.  Even the likes of Armistead Maupin, who offered an advanced copy of his latest book, are getting involved. And according to her latest status still more people are contacting her.

Thank you Keris for doing this.

These Days by Jackson Browne just as a reminder of all those things we have forgotten to do.




Sunday, 3 November 2013

YAF and contentious issues...again

I am writing this evening with one eye shut - the joys of yet another migraine but it is something I wanted to write. My good friend Nicky Schmidt wrote a fascinating blog post the other day entitled YA Fiction - a safe haven for teens. Those who know me are aware that this is a bit of a soap box for me. There is always going to be a need for books that deal with contentious issues. Places for teens to escape and explore as I have previously spoken about (some might argue ad nauseum).

There are two things I would like to say here. Firstly, it is important to also understand that not EVERY teen book has to deal with issues such as sex, drugs and alcohol  (Twilight for example is a prime example of that) - not that Nicky is suggesting that. But sometimes teens don't want to be faced with those issues, or equally see so much of it they don't want to read about it. YAF should be all about the story and not about the issues it deals with. In the same way if you are an aspiring writer and you don't want to write realist, gritty, teen fiction that deals with lots of issues. You don't have to, as long as your story is good enough. We all just need to write lots of different stories, gritty or otherwise, that teens can escape into when they need to.

The other idea I wanted to briefly highlight with regard though not specific to YAF is a cultural one. This is something we sometimes seem to forget and also something I have discussed with Nicky quite extensively as she is from South Africa and is currently writing a story based there. It was highlighted to me recently the cultural implications of where a story is written. I have reviewed some Canadian books which contain drugs themes. Often the drug of use portrayed within has been crystal meth. This is not something I ever really came across when I was doing my research into British contemporary YAF. When I explored this further I realised it came down to culture. Canada has a slightly greater issue with crystal meth than we do in the UK (currently that is - who knows what the Breaking Bad influence will have, if any). I could no more tell the Canadian authors not to write about crystal meth than they could ask us not to write about cannabis or cocaine in the way we do. Obviously there are a lot of generic themes which cause no cultural problems but it is just sometimes worth taking a breath and thinking about how your story might be perceived elsewhere.

So many things to think about here and all things I am mulling over for the commissioned book. I have just briefly touched on both of the ideas really.

Those who follow this blog know I am an academic. I have just had a article published which has taken me down a different route. It is a critical/creative combination and was co-authored with Prof Jen Webb of the University of Canberra. If you are interested you can find it here http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue24/Webb&Harbour.pdf

Also some of you may know that my PhD was a creative writing one. If you are interested in the creative arts and doctoral studies you will find this Special Edition of Text a fascinating read.  http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue24/content.htm

And here is a bit of Jane Taylor with All Things Change because let's be honest they do...Thanks IC for the intro to Jane

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Perfect Day....

Not smiling at the moment
This is a short post and off topic but I couldn't let it go by unrecognised. The death of Lou Reed, at the age of 71, has just been announced. Please excuse this indulgence.

His song Perfect Day has got me through some very difficult times. Even now the song can bring tears to my eyes as I remember. It was one of the songs that is part of the soundtrack of my life. Some happy moments, some angry, some desperately and painfully sad.

It was a song my mother loved too. She always said there were so many perfect days in her life and how lucky she was. She was right, I also have had many perfect days in my life and many things to celebrate. Who've thought I'd be doing what I am now? Certainly not me.

Perfect Song is obviously not Lou's only success. He was a hugely influential and successful song writer and guitarist. My thoughts are with his family.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Children's books are how culture is made? Discuss

The joy of reading together

The title of this blog came from a quote used in a recent article, which was actually discussing an exhibition in New York. But it started me thinking about the idea. Culture, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. On this basis are children's books how culture is made? I have to be honest I have no answers just thoughts as I mull this idea over.

Many of the Children's Literature researchers look at children's books and suggest what they mean. For example you can find information on how Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows (1908) is a commentary on the social mores of the time, a response to the society of the early 20th Century and Grahame's dislike of women. The weasels and stoats were believed to be representative of the emerging working class. The question for me, as a writer, is did Grahame really actually plan all that? More likely it has been decided by academics at a later date when the Fin de Siรจcle and all that is happening within society at that time were considered alongside the book.

I do think that we cannot but help when writing to reflect the current mores and values of our contemporary society but I think it is an unconscious thing. We create that culture by accident not by design. That doesn't mean we won't necessarily be rebellious with what what create. When writing, as with reading, you bring into play your cultural moment. For example, how you grew up, your interests including political and your experiences. As a brief sample of what I mean, a friend read something I wrote ages ago and commented upon the religious themes that were running throughout. This was a total surprise I had not consciously put in anything religious, or so I thought, but when I looked again I could see what she meant. She was a very religious person and I think that that is perhaps why she saw these motifs. She wanted to see them as they appealed to her experiences.

This brings me on to the reader. As I mentioned above the reader doesn't come to any text in innocence, even as a child, they bring all their ow experiences (however brief) with them and it is on that basis that they will interpret the story. (Andrew Melrose expands on this idea in his book) Leaving the text with more knowledge and increased experiences. But as a child reader do they look for cultural mores and values - no, they are looking for a great story that they give believe in and vicariously experience.

In a lecture on Monday we were considering Wolfgang Iser and readers. We were discussing when, and if, we consider our readers when we wrote. A student came up with an intriguing idea - they write for themselves and edit for their audience. Is this something we all do I wonder?

By the way the little chap in the photo is just a little bit bigger but loves his books just as much.

This piece is by Salif Keita and entitled Folon. I used it as part of an exercise with my first year students and it inspired some wonderful pieces of writing so I thought I would share in case you needed a bit of inspiration.



Then I hope you enjoy this (with thanks to Cathy Cassidy for introducing me to it) a bit of Kacey Musgraves as we all sit on our Merry Go Round.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

All change

Happy Day!
This week sees the beginning of October. The trees are beginning to change into a glorious cornucopia of gold and amber. And I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

What this means for me is time to write. I will have two whole days each week to work on two projects I have. One fiction and one non fiction. Both of which need to be written by 2015. Seems a long time away. I can assure you it is not! Or certainly not when you have to do so much research and the projects are so different.

Yes, part of me is feeling pretty daunted at the moment. I have been working on them both or rather dabbling for the last few months but now it is time to be focused and get those words on the page.

My world has changed so much in the last year and I am trying hard to embrace those changes and move forward. These projects are wonderful as they give me something to focus on. Last week was the first of the semester and it was a timely reminder of how much I enjoy lecturing. My students are enthusiastic and insightful and therefore a joy to work with. While at Golden Egg, with Imogen Cooper, Beverley Birch, Bella Pearson and Chrissie O'Brien, continues to grow and thrive. I have the privilege of working with and mentoring some fantastic aspiring writers through GE as well as developing some new and very exciting projects. Watch this space for news on those at some point.

I know I have mentioned this before but I will be using my blog to test out my research ideas for the academic book I am writing. Please bear with me if I got off at tangents at times but I hope you enjoy my thoughts as I bounce my ideas around.

This is a brief Sunday blog and I felt the need for a bit of Joni because sometimes clouds get in my way too.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Narrative


I have been a bit quiet on this blog recently because I have been very tied up in a momentous event, for me anyway, my daughter got married to a wonderful man. The whole event got me thinking about the layers of narrative in our lives.

The photo is one of many that were taken in a shutterbooth which caused a great deal of hilarity for many people at the wedding. This picture in itself has so many layers of narrative to it. A photo of 3 women who happen to sisters who all have stories to tell. It is a narrative of happiness and laughter but also missing and loss partly embodied by the white rabbit.

I love using photos as triggers for writing as you know (I have previously spoken about how Trafficking was inspired by a photo). You look at a picture and you take in what you see but also what you don't. What are these people thinking? What do they do? Where is their family? But also you spend your life creating narratives as you tell the stories of your day to those who care. Or retelling a funny/sad story you have heard. It is all about spreading those narratives.

When writing you have to understand narrative too. Your story should have multiple layers creating depth to bring the story alive. Narrative allows you to create links between events and cultural moments that are part of a developing story. You cannot have a story without a narrative, it is naturally integral. In the same way narrative is not only confined to 'realist' writing. It may not be immediately obvious but all stories in whatever format will have an embedded narrative.

There will be a narrative within each scene, chapter and complete story. As you develop your characters they will develop their own narrative in the same way that any setting will also have a narrative behind it. Not necessarily always obvious but there to inform your writing. Having an understanding of all these narratives will help you add the required depth to your story. For the reader this embedded narrative gives them the tools to decipher and make the connections between the various clues that when linked create the story and those pictures in their mind. But the cause and effect within a narrative can also be used to confuse the reader. This is reliant on the reader wanting to impose a narrative on certain sequential events. It is up to the writer then to turn this narrative on its head and prove the reader wrong, as in all great thrillers/crime stories, where you are certain you know 'who did it' only to proven totally wrong by the end of the book.

Look at the world around you and explore the narrative you are in. When reading think about the multiple layers of narrative involved and this awareness will be reflected in your own writing. Have fun with it.

I would like to introduce you to the very talented Caitlin Gilligan singing her own song Moon Child. I just love the imagery and narrative she uses here. I'd rather be putting the stars in your eyes and painting the sky with you too. Check out Caitlin''s page https://www.facebook.com/caitlingilliganmusic

Saturday, 31 August 2013

All change - writerly decisions!

I have made a momentous decision this week and I wanted to share, so here's a short blog post.

Quick drum roll...

 I have put Trafficking aside for the moment to write a new story!

Trafficking was part of my PhD but it is virtually unrecognisable as that story now. I am not giving up on it but my new story is time sensitive so I need to focus on that for the moment.  This is all with the blessing of IC, thank goodness. I am not sure I would have had the courage otherwise.

In a way it was a tough decision because I had been working on Trafficking in various forms for four years but in another way there was a huge sense of relief. The new story is something totally different and will take me into a new area of writing. It is very exciting.

The new story is partly based on a real event, hence the time sensitive comment, plus it just lends itself to being made into a wonderful story. I am managing to combine two of my passions too. You are looking at one happy writer here. It will give me a great escape from the pressure of writing and researching an academic book that I have been commissioned to write, which you will no doubt hear more about on here as this is a good place to explore ideas. (A brilliant nugget of information handed to me by a friend and then reinforced by a blog post by Mark Carrigan)

Sometimes as writers you have to make these decisions. You have to have to walk away for the time being and try something new. Who knows what it might turn into when I go back to it. Writing is all about making the write [sic] decisions, whether it is about the big story or the specific word, they all have to be considered. For all you writers out there, good luck with your writerly decisions and trust your gut instinct. It is invariably right!

Today is a beautiful day at the start of an enormous week for all of us in my family. And this is a perfect song by India Arie

Saturday, 24 August 2013

What happens when your muses move out?

My inspiration
My world is changing at the moment. Gorgeous daughter is getting married in less than two weeks and youngest son moves out to live with his girlfriend next week. Think eldest son will be moving out very soon too also to live with his girlfriend. I will have an empty nest. What has that got to do with my writing. Quite a bit actually because they were my inspiration. They are part of the reason I wrote young adult fiction.

But as you can gather from above they are all in their 20s now so are at the top end of YA anyway. Does that mean I need to change my writing? Do I have a right to continue writing YAF? What happens when your muses move out? Will I be able to still write? Rachel Ward wrote a insightful post on a similar idea this week on Author Allsorts Blog. I have no idea what the answer to these questions are going to be. It will be a wait a see moment.

As you know from last week I have a new story to write and though it has a young adult protagonist it is very different from anything I have written so far. I am loving writing and am very inspired by it but have yet to find out whether IC thinks it is working and worth pursuing. IC and I were having a conversation this week about writing (we weren't supposed to be talking about that but we had gone off at a tangent as we do oh so frequently!). We were talking about the need to maintain momentum if you get published. You need another book (or at least a good idea) there ready. But of course there some people who don't want to write anymore. They have had their one book published and that's all they wanted. This I find very difficult to understand. I have to write, or at the very least I constantly have ideas going round in my head, and I know from some of my writerly friends they feel the same. I cannot imagine just writing one story. I watch people and make up stories about them. I look at artefacts and think about what has happened to them, what might they have seen? My world is full of 'what ifs?' just like Rachel.

I am hoping that with my empty house I will have 'a room of one's own' to write in.I also hope this will give me the head space to create wonderful narratives. And even though my muses will have gone the stories will still flow because, like Rachel Ward, I find teenagers fascinating. I love to see them trying to work out who they are and developing such strong identities with their whole lives ahead of them. However, I must continue to keep an eye on teenage culture, continue to read young adult fiction and watch what is making their world turn.

Yesterday I had to set up a royalites account for an academic book I am about to write. That is pretty daunting too. All very grown up. It is based on elements of my PhD but also a lot more. I will be relieved to have the space to research and write it in too.

Time to embrace the new world and fight the fear. Please excuse the obvious sentimentality of this but they may be moving out and starting wonderful, well deserved new lives but they will always 'still belong to me'. Thank you for being the best children anyone could ever wish for CH, LH and TH and good luck for the future gorgeous people. I am so proud of you all. (Oops is that vomit sounds I can hear?!)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Blossoming stories - where do ideas come from?

Wendy Storer recently wrote a brilliant post about how she had come across a gift of a story. I had a similar experience yesterday, it wasn't someone telling me something that had happened to them that could be made into an instant story as had happened to Wendy. Instead it was a case of researching something I love and I thought I had researched before. I was wrong,  I found out something totally new and it blew me away immediately

Oh the wonders of the Internet. I suddenly found I had a complete story unfolding in front of me. It is so perfect and it just fell into my lap. How often does that happen to a writer -not very I can assure you. It will be based partly on a true story though there will be an element poetic license. I am not going to tell you what it is yet as it is too new and still forming. But I am very excited about it and so is IC, which is always a bonus.

I am still working on Trafficking with IC but was very aware I needed another story to start working on. I wanted to avoid 'second novel issues.' I also needed something I could play with which is exactly what this story is.

It was the fear behind those ideas that inspired Trafficking
Writers are invariably asked 'Where do your ideas come from?' In a way it is such a difficult question to answer because ideas can come from anywhere. Some of you may remember that the initial idea for Trafficking came from a certain photograph which was very similar to a well known photograph from the National Geographic. But ideas can be formed from anything - song lyrics, poems, news articles, magazine articles. Some writers I know keep files of newspaper/magazine cuttings and use those as sources of inspiration. You can also be inspired by art of various forms, by going to the theatre or watching films or documentaries. It can come from history or a fantastical idea. The Internet can also play a huge part as it allows you to explore the world both past and present. It is always worth keeping a notebook where you can write down splinters of ideas as they come to you.

The most important thing is to remain open to ideas. Let them form and develop of their own accord. I find if you try and force them they stultify and never develop into anything. Also be careful about sharing them too soon. Sometimes people can inadvertently squash your idea because they don't understand what you are trying to do. Treat it as something very precious that needs to be nurtured until it blossoms.

Good luck all your writers with your ideas

And now a bit of Brown Eyed Girl like the girl i



Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Who needs labels?

Too many labels!
We all know about young adult fiction. We were then introduced to New Adult which was supposed to piggy back on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey and its erotica. It included stories aimed at the upper age range of YAF right into the early twenties. But now, today, I have heard of another label. This time it is called Clean Teen! This is apparently 'sophisticated stories for the NA market but without the sexualised content.'

Does this mean that neither YAF or NA can be sophisticated? Who decides?

For me what they are forgetting to mention all the time is that whatever age you are you want good stories told well. Stories that interest you and deal with issues that may concern you or amuse you. You may be particularly keen on romance or crime, it may be Sci Fi or Fantasy that tickles your fancy. Or you might enjoy a good war story or a bit of sick lit (that's a whole other issue). But at the end of the day it doesn't matter as long as you are enjoying reading it.

All these labels at the end of the day mean nothing. They are just labels. Some are being conveniently used to raise the profile of certain books but most people don't actually care what label a book comes under. They care about whether the writing is any good and the story is enthralling.

As a writer I would suggest you don't worry about them either. Write the story you want to write to the best of your ability. You may find yourself shoehorned into a label at a later date but forget about it until it happens. Concentrate on honing your craft as a writer. Making your story come to life and lift off the page, sucking the reader in so even when they put the book down they are still thinking about it.

When writing for teenagers/young adults/new adults/clean adults (whoever) I would suggest you think about what Nicola Morgan has previously said: 'I believe teenagers want….stories that take them out of the comfort zone (and definitely out of their parents’ comfort zone), to the limit of fear, disgust, emotion, grief, or passion, and which then brings them safely back again'

Therefore my tip for today is - just go away and write and forget about labels!

One talented teenager:

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Trust

Trust your gut
I have been doing a lot of reading for a chapter I am writing with a colleague. Today I read a paper, which though unlikely to make into the chapter, was very interesting. It was by Ursula K. Le Guin entitled 'A matter of trust.' I came away from it with two important quotes. Firstly, 'in order to write a story, you have to trust yourself, you have to trust your story and you have to trust the reader.' I would actually add one more to that. You have to trust your editor too.

I am not always great a trusting the reader and often find myself particularly when I am first splurging a story down I end up showing the reader something and then telling them the same thing. A bit of overkill. I did some fairly serious editing again to my novel this week and suddenly found myself with a very short novel. Oops! Tomorrow is about building the story up.

You have to remember that the story should consist of clues that allow the reader to create their own picture and develop a narrative based on their cultural moment and your thoughts. Trust your reader.

When writing it is important to trust yourself too, that gut instinct. If it doesn't feel right it invariably isn't. Again I have found this out from experience. I have not been convinced about a part of the narrative but neither have I had the confidence to remove it. Inevitably IC will pick up on it and say take that out. I have learnt through bitter experience, if worried, take it out. You won't regret it.

This all adds up to the second quote I found in the same piece 'A story is a collaboration between a teller and audience, writer and reader. Fiction is not only illusion, but collusion.' You may think you write on your own but actually you are never alone. You have your potential reader sitting on one shoulder and your editor on the other, both of whom you are colluding with creating the best story you can.

You have to trust your gut instinct about some other things too. I have been a bit quiet on the blog because I have been on leave and being doing a lot of thinking. This has led to some quite difficult decisions. Let's hope my gut instinct is right on this one too!

Just remember everyone, have belief in yourself.

This is for my children who have helped me through the last few months and listened as I tried to make these decisions. Thank you. Our song from the dim distant past xx






Monday, 15 July 2013

John Yorke's Into the Woods & 2 others

I made a decision a couple of years ago that I wouldn't review books. I have too many friends who write wonderful ones and I would spend my whole time writing about them. However, I am about to break that rule.

IC recommended John Yorke's Into the Woods the other day and so I got myself a copy and started dipping a toe in. Being a CW lecturer I am often bombarded with information on the latest 'must have' creative writing book. Some I look into, some I don't. On this basis I was slightly sceptical when I started reading it. The matt black cover did appeal until I realised how marked it became but that was no reflection on the content.

If you are a writer or interested in the process of writing this is well worth having a look at. Don't get me wrong, it is not a 'how to' book. Also it focuses on scriptwriting but I found so much I could take and apply to my own work (and am doing). I am particularly fascinated by the five act journey into story that he explores throughout. It made so much sense. I know already it is going to be one of those books that I go back to, over and over again. It is written in such an accessible way. As it says in the blurb John Yorke 'takes us on a journey to the heart of storytelling, revealing that there truly is a unifying shape to narrative forms' while drawing upon the likes of Vogler, Campbell, McKee, Broker and Propp, to name but a few. When you read it you realise actually how obvious it is and how often you are doing it intuitively.  This in itself was intriguing for me.

John Yorke has such a wonderful amount of experience to draw upon. He has brought us things like Shameless and Life on Mars as well as setting up the BBC British Writers' Academy. I believe he has used all his experience to create a book that is easy to use and so insightful. It is divided into its own five acts - which work perfectly well. I read it from beginning to end because I was enthralled by it but it is also a book you can just dip in and out of as and when you need guidance.

There are another two books I would like to suggest you have a look at. Holly Thompson's The Language Inside and Sarah Crossan's The Weight of Water. They are both beautiful stories written in verse that still maintains a fast moving narrative. The ability of both writers to create such evocative and vivid pictures through so few words is extraordinary.

Many of my students (and myself at times, if I am honest) often end up using more words than are necessary. Two words, where one would do at the very least. Both of these books are great examples of how to pare back those words and yet leave enough information on the page for the reader to paint their own picture. If you do anything this summer I think you should read at least one of these books.

They are both great examples of something that John Yorke explains with regard to musicians and artists but also, as he highlighted, equally applicable to writers: 'They had to know the restrictions before they could transcend them.' Basically, you need to understand the rules (even if it is intuitive) before you break them.

So on that note it just has to be David Bowie's Life on Mars:




Saturday, 6 July 2013

It is all in a name...

My name was invented by Jonathan Swift
This week an interview from the TV programme This Morning went viral and understandably so. It was truly unbelievable. It was an interview between Phillip Schofield, Holly Willoughby and Katie Hopkins and Anna May Mangan. It was a 'discussion' about children's names. Katie Hopkins apparently stops her children playing with other children if she feels their first names are not appropriate. It is well worth watching but be prepared to get more than a little irritated with this woman. A classic moment was when she mentioned she didn't like children named after geographical locations and Philip pointed out her daughter was called India. This was apparently not the same! Both Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby were the ultimate professionals by not losing their tempers with her. I am not sure I could have done the same.

This argument, however, made me stop and think. Am I guilty of this as a writer? I spend ages trying to work out the best name and fit it to my character.  I use photographs and ask lots of questions of them - their background, where they live, what they do etc etc. I create a whole character biog. Therefore, am I creating these stereotypes that she is using? Am I as bad as her...oh I hope not.

I have been known to spend days trawling through baby name books, looking on the internet and reading other books searching for the right character name. Why? Because a name can tell you so much but it also can tell you nothing if you want it to that is. In my WIP, Trafficking, I have two characters one called Saba and her mother is called Belqis. Both names give a clue as to where they might have come from. But also I know that Belqis means Queen of Saba. My readers will never know that but it meant a lot to me to use the name. The other two names of my main characters are Amina and Ben. Amina gives a slight hint to her heritage and Ben, is pretty nondescript. No offense meant if you are called Ben. I had an English Setter called Ben who was lovely and very elegant; my sons have numerous friends called Ben and they are lovely, so is that where the name came from? Who knows.. It is a name that doesn't say anything and that was deliberate. Maybe I should call him Tyler (see interview)...

If I said the name Harry to you I imagine you would come back with the name of a certain wizard. If I even said Bella or Edward, if you are of a certain age, the same vampirish images might appear in your head. This isn't new. Books, films, TV programmes, stage plays can all potentially have an impact on a name as can celebrities. Making it popular or equally ensuring it looses its popularity because a vile character has been allocated it. I haven't met many Voldemorts I must be honest.

As I said this interview has made me stop and think. I will consider even more carefully what names I am going to use and what characteristics they are going to have. I don't want to do anything that might add fuel to this woman's unreasonable biases.

How do you pick the names for your characters?

And here is an appropriate song: Barry Gibb and Michael Jackson singing 'All in your name.'

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Diversity, Inclusion & Equality Special Edition of Write4Children

Just a quick post as the latest edition of the open access e-journal Write4Children (www.write4children.org, click on Vol IV Issue II) went live this week. It is a special edition that has been guest edited by Beth Cox and Alexandra Strickland of Inclusive Minds (www.inclusiveminds.com).

It is a mammoth edition full of an eclectic mix of articles that deal with a diverse (appropriately) range of subjects. Well worth having a look at. Though by accident our timing seemed perfect considering Malorie Blackman, a great supporter of diversity, as has been previously mentioned was named as the Waterstone's Children's Laureate.

The articles, in the main, are about books already written and not about writing books. However, I think it is important as authors that we are aware of these issues too.

We are always looking for good articles on the creative aspects of writing for children. Send them to me at write4children@winchester.ac.uk

Seems appropriate considering some of the things I have seen this week: Tears for Fears 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World'. Takes me back...Happy Days

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Sex in YAF

My PhD on sex, drugs and alcohol in YAF
from 2011
At the weekend I mentioned to you that it had been two years to the day that I had done my PhD viva. My thesis title is 'The Issues of Representation/Representing Sex, Drugs and Alcohol in British Contemporary YAF.' There have been a few academics who have disagreed with my thoughts, in particular, the idea that YAF is a great place for teenagers to explore contentious issues through the vicarious experience. So today it was with great delight that I read an article by Malorie Blackman (see here ) where she said exactly the same thing. Along with Melvin Burgess who highlights that teenagers can cope with anything as long as it is put in context.

Many suggest that YAF should be the last place that contentious issues such as sex should be discussed implying that innocence should be maintained. They seem to forget the open access many teenagers have to porn and the such like via various mediums including the internet and let's be honest this is the last place we want them to be learning about sex. It objectifies women and brutalizes the sex as also highlighted by Malorie. It is anything but real.

Reading allows a teenager to find out who they are, or even, and perhaps more importantly, who they are not. Searching for an identity. Reading, either via a book or an e-book, allows them to take away what they want to from the narrative.  It enables them to safely ask questions of the narrative without fear of embarrassment or mockery. It is all about the vicarious experience where a teenager can decide how they would react in any given situation by reading stories and seeing how the character's behave. They may agree/empathise with them, they may not. There are no rules just opportunities to explore. To test the world.

Importantly no teenager is going to come to a story in ignorance. They will probably know a lot more than they can even articulate. As writers it is up to us to provide them with those stories. They must be strong and are so real that they ring true with the reader and therefore they will connect with them. My research highlighted how sex has become more graphic in YAF but I see this as no bad thing. I would rather teenagers learnt about sex from the more realistic approaches of Malorie, Melvin Burgess and others than by trawling through any porn sites.

I am really looking forward to Malorie Blackman being the Children's Laureate. She talks so much sense and writes great books. What more could we ask for?

I have written several times in this blog before which you may be interested but is risky getting repetitive - come on everyone move on please
http://chaosmos-outofchaoscomesorder.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/sex-in-young-adult-fiction-move-along.html
There was also the 'sick lit' debate
http://chaosmos-outofchaoscomesorder.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-sick-lit-debate.html

I couldn't really put up any other music than Ian Drury & The Blockheads 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll'







Saturday, 15 June 2013

Editing, head space and PhDs

Happy Days!
It was two years ago today that I took my PhD viva. Time has flown, the world has changed and so have I. The little lad in the picture is now a toddler and loving life. My daughter is still smiling and I am very aware of how important family is. I am also aware of how fragile life is.

Things have been happening over the last few months that have made me think, made me reassess and consider what actually makes me happy. One thing I do know is that I still love my writing, escaping into a world of words. I love my research and need to develop it further. However, my research profile is not as strong as it should be that is in part due to work commitments that consume every waking moment leaving no head space to let ideas develop. That is one thing that has to change.
I have lots of ideas bubbling away both creative and critical. I just need to focus and create that head space and I am going to. Watch this space.

During the past week I was talking to NS via skype and we were discussing that innate inability to self edit your own work at times. We both acknowledge that when critiquing other people's work you can see the mistakes both structural and copy but when it comes to your own there is a sense that the shutters come down. This can mean there are some cringe worthy moments when an editor/critique partner points out an issue  in your work that you know you have picked other people up on. Yet you still can't see it in your own work. We were also discussing the importance of working with people and organisations that you trust. I am lucky I can offer that sort of support to my students at the University of Winchester but also to others through  the Golden Egg Academy. It is a very satisfying process watching something grow and evolve. I just get irritated when I can't see my own mistakes.

In fact I am fascinated as to why we can't see the mistakes so I asked gorgeous daughter, who knows a bit about brains, and she came back with the obvious - your brain sees what it thinks it has written and not necessarily what is actually on the page. This is all well and good but how do you make it see it afresh and anew. I am aware there are all the ideas about leaving it in your bottom drawer for three months and then going back to it but it can still be an issue. I know about reading it backwards so you just see the words and not the sentences. Then of course the ever important reading out loud. All of which are valid but I still find the occasional mistakes gets through - so frustrating. I want to explore how the brain works more with this.

How do you approach your editing?

I also wanted to let you in on my plan. It is my intention to use this blog more to develop my ideas as I focus on my research. It is something I have seen a friend do and it works well so thought I would give it a go too. It is time to take control and move on. Watch this space.

However, this is the second post I have written today but the first one will never see the light of day. It ended up just too personal for me and my family but still needed to be something that was written down. This is for all my family, you will know why I have chosen this particular version. Love you.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Born to be a writer?

Books - a shining light for a writer
This week JW pointed me in the direction of some interesting pieces of work: Maria Takolander's 'On not being born to write' and Dallas Baker and his critical work. Both of which got me thinking and I  intend to explore more. Here are some of my initial musings which I will develop over time but am currently thinking out loud or 'out blog'!

How many times have you heard that saying 'I was born to write' - numerous I imagine. Of course we are born to write because we are all born and with that birth comes the ability to learn to use language. It is up to us how we do that and what we do with that ability afterwards.  What happens to us and our writing often develops out of socio cultural identities not out of genes. Inevitably I find writers are often vociferous readers. One seems to feed the other. The love of reading could be a catalyst which both informs and encourages the aspiring writer to be brave and put pen to paper. I thought Takolander's statement 'good writing comes out of good writing' to be very pertinent.

I have sisters who say to me, 'I don't know how you do it, how do you come up with ideas. I couldn't do it.' But I actually think they probably could given the time, the space and the encouragement to do so. When I say space what I mean is 'head space' not necessarily 'a room of one's own' Woolf style (though I can't deny that does help). Space away from life and all its pressures allowing your brain  time to stop, think and create.

Talking of that space to write, Takolander goes on to discuss creative writing degrees where she highlights how courses often state they cannot teach the art but they can teach the craft. Art as she pointed out is such a loaded term. There is an element of elitism attached to it while the term craft seems more accessible.This begs the question though who decides what is art and what is craft? When does craft become art? I have no answers yet but am working on it.

I have said this before, creative writing degrees are an opportunity to find your voice. Try on others until you get to the one that fits you the best - as per Al Alvarez quote which I know I have used numerous times before. If you are a writer on your own you rarely take risks or dip your toe in different styles of writing. You make a decision about what sort of writer you think you are, often based on your favourite books to read, and only focus on that. Sometimes that can be a big mistake. The number of times my students have come to me and said that they had done 'X' module which they thought they would hate but instead they have fallen in love. Particularly in their first year where they have a chance to explore four genres: fiction, scriptwriting, poetry and creative non fiction. They might have preset ideas about what they will and won't like. It is interesting to watch those ideas being tipped upside down. I did it myself. I had a very set idea what sort of writer I was until I did my degree. It had never occurred to me to write for young adults. Now I can't imagine writing for anyone else. That all happened because I had the opportunity to try the YAF voice on.

Another thought came out of one of the many tangential conversations I have with IC. We were discussing the fact that if you are a musician, a dancer, sportsperson, artist etc you are likely to have spent many years training (often costing thousands in money and time) so that you can become the best you possibly can. Why should this be any different with writers? A creative writing course is certainly a way of undertaking some of that training. There are a myriad to pick from.

Briefly I will touch on Baker who made some fascinating points where he relates creativity and critical reflexivity with the Foucauldian idea of the aesthetics of existence and self-bricolage. A bit like my idea above of your writerly person being created out of your socio cultural moment. It would make this blog too long to explore that here but I will do at some point because I have been doing some work on web of identities and gyres that I would like to relate it to - watch this space.

It has been a long old week and I know it is only Thursday but that should tell you everything. We are heading towards the summer when I can focus more on my own work and make some pretty heavy decisions but hopefully I will have that head space that will allow me to be creatively critical and critically creative.

How about a bit of Cohen?









Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Getting your work out there...

This is just a brief post but I wanted to share this little film.
I am lucky as many of you know I am a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Winchester and I love my job (most of the time - just don't ask in the middle of marking hell). As part of the course we take a truly holistic approach we, obviously, focus on writing but also explore the different ways you can use writing. Part of which is getting your work out there. This can be a very daunting process. For the last few years at Winchester we have provided a stepping stone, that first opportunity to disseminate your work to the public through our own creative writing magazine for all students (not just Winchester) called Vortex. Here is our Programme Leader, and editor of said journal, Dr Neil McCaw, talking about it and the process:



Yesterday I was part of a validation event having written a new course for doctoral students. It is a huge relief that it is over and was passed but now it gives me time to think. Time to focus on my own research and writing. The sun is shining and everything seems possible. So where shall I go next?

https://soundcloud.com/lauramarlingofficial/laura-marling-where-can-i-go


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Writing what you know...or not

We are often told as writers to write what we know but sometimes it is just as important to write what we don't know. J K Rowling had a great success doing precisely that as did Philip Pullman with The Dark Materials. JK can't have known Hogwarts or Diagon Alley as actual places but I bet they are based on things she had seen or read about elsewhere. What J K does do so successfully is to create a world we all believe in. As did Pullman, though obviously using Oxford he highlights the difference in the setting by spelling the country as Brytain. It is the same yet different. If I was going to go all academic on you I could relate it to Freud's uncanny or Bakhtin's carnivalesque. But today I am not.

Our writing cannot help but be based on some part of our autobiographical background. It might be something that we have read, seen or had life experience of. When you write you have a web of identities. For me, mine are as a writer, a mother, a woman and an academic. Each intricate layer informs my narrative and my understanding behind the decisions I make. They make me the writer I am. I write fiction for young adults yet it is a long time since I have been one. My children are no longer teenagers, they have moved on but my writing is still embedded within teenage-dom. For me the important thing is not to restrict myself to one cultural moment. Unless of course the aim is relevant to the story - thinking of Dave Massey's Torn for example. My writing needs to be contingent and fluid reflecting the ever moving world around me while I create a fictional world that is familiar and recognisable, particularly as I write realist novels.

The important thing is not to be afraid. Believe in the world you create and your readers will too. It doesn't matter whether you are creating a realist world, a dystopian one or fantasy world, you need to understand exactly how it works. This means undertaking world building exercises alongside your character building ones. You need to understand not just what your world looks like but how the culture works within it for example.

If we only wrote about what we knew a lot of books would not be written. If you have a story that you love that is a based in a world that you believe in then get down and write it. Just make sure you do all the pre-writing work. If your idea is in an area you have no experience of, research it. Also do not be concerned about using autobiographical instances as the starting point for a story. It is what writers do. (Just a word of caution make sure you are not going to offend anyone if it is going to be obvious it is a story based on a certain person).

Here's a bit of Joni for a Saturday afternoon when all the work and words are not falling right.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The importance of recycling

How many times have you been told to 'kill your darlings' when writing? I was talking about this last week and what I suggested was that you don't kill them but perhaps you move them and I don't mean within the same story. There are times when they just don't belong however beautiful and well crafted they are.

What I suggest you do is create a darlings document. You then can move all these precious words into it as you never know when you might be able to use them again. We all know how hard they were to write in the first place. Why waste them?

As I have already told you I am rewriting again and I have suddenly find a use for elements of a novel I wrote a few years ago. Moments of Disjointed, a novel I am unlikely to ever try and get published, have jumped ship and moved into Trafficking. I did't anticipate this and hadn't thought about Disjointed for ages but then suddenly a scene from that story bounced into my head. A perfect episode that summed up an issue I was having in the rewrite. It gave me the sense of tension I wanted.

But it doesn't just happen in fiction, I have spent the morning beginning to write a chapter I am doing in collaboration with a good friend.  So far again the words I am using have been inspired by text I have used elsewhere. They are not strictly the same ones and are very definitely in a different order but there is an element of inspiration drawn from established 'darlings' that were tucked away in a more recently ignored folder entitled 'PhD bits.' All things that had never quite made it into the final thesis.

See it is all about the recycling and don't be afraid of it.

There is a caveat of course. Don't use those darlings just because you are in love with them however beautiful or clever they are. Even when you move them to a new story, make sure they fit and you are not trying to shoehorn them in. Remember you have plenty of writing life ahead of you when you can utilise them.

White Buffalo 'Wish it were true' .

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Perfect words

A head full of words
I was reading some manuscripts in preparation for last Saturday's Golden Egg Academy Editorial Surgeries and I had one of those moments when a phrase just jumped out of the page. It was so perfect. The rest of the sentence needed a bit of work but that single phrase said so much, but then, oh joys, it happened again in a different manuscript. The phrases were just beautiful. They said everything they needed to in just a couple of words. And no, I am not going to tell you what the phrases were. I will leave that for the writers when they get their books published.

As an editor/lecturer, it is a wonderful feeling when you have those moments when reading someone else's work, but when it happens to you as a writer you feel just wonderful. For a brief moment you feel as if you are at one with the world. What you are hoping for is words that will stick in your reader's mind. They will see exactly what you are seeing. Some people assume it only happens in poetry but it doesn't. These beautifully crafted words can appear in any written text, in the same way it doesn't have to be fiction, be it adult or children's. I have read some stunning phraseology used in creative non fiction which has lifted the writing off the page, so the images danced in front of me.

Even as a lecturer in creative writing I can't turn to you and say 'write me a beautiful phrase, NOW!' Neither can I give you precise instructions on how to make it happen. That's not how it works. It comes with learning your craft, listening to your imagination and following your gut. You need to write, read, write, read some more and then do a bit more writing. Letting those images pirouette and having faith in them. But also, there's a caveat here, be prepared to kill them off, however beautiful they are, if they do not move the story/plot forward.

Speaking as a writer, I often find you may not even be aware you have created one of these phrases. It is only when someone read's your work and spots them that you become aware. You are just conscious of writing your story to the best of your ability. I am rewriting the first third of my novel. I have written nearly 18,000 words but at the moment I have no idea if they are in the right order. Will there be one of those wonderful dancing phrases in all those words? Who knows? We will have to wait and see. I have a fair few more words in my head waiting to get down on the page but at the moment life as an academic is definitely getting in the way sucking the life out of me.

I was going to list my favourite phrases here but then decided that I couldn't decide which ones to include so, instead, I have decided to ask you - what are your favourites?

Here is Gabrielle Aplin's Home. 'It is not just where you lay your head...' For me home is just as much about people as places and they don't all have to be in the same location either. It is just good to know they are there when your 'home' is rocked.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Beverley Birch and the physicality of verbs

Beverley Birch
I was lucky enough to attend the first morning of the weekend workshop that Beverley Birch was running at the Golden Egg Academy last weekend. Other work meant I had to come home early and not spend the whole weekend there, which I was desperately sad about. Beverley, an editor at Hodder until her recent retirement, was running a workshop on 'Through the Narrator's Eye.'

I only had a brief taster of Beverley's session but it was fascinating. It was all about the detail and how it can be used to convey the story. Beverley, as many of you know, is also a writer - check out one of her books Rift. She spoke to us about her writing processes. Her first draft is all about the idea and getting it down. The second draft is about pace. The third draft is all about characterization. The fourth about detail and so it goes on going back through pace/characterization/detail until she feels it is ready. Often she will go through 50-60+ drafts before she reaches this stage. As she pointed out, with the publishing industry as it is at the moment, you need to go that extra mile.

This means self editing, so you write the story but then you have to step back and see it from an editor's point of view. You have to be quite cold and calculating about what works and what doesn't. What messages you are trying to get across etc. Are you being consistent and is the voice apt? Beverley suggested that many editors now are looking for something that is pretty much there now. Gone are the times where an editor will spend hours getting it right with you. This is not because they don't want to but purely because they don't have time. Like the rest of the world they are under a huge amount of pressure.

It is all about reader reaction - do you want to read more or is your immediate thought, 'Nah, not interested.' You are looking to create an umbilical cord between your characters and your reader making them part of the story. You want to be looking for texture, for an ebb and flow in your story. Remember as an author, what you focus on is what the reader is going to see. You need to paint that picture and as such you need to think filmically when you write. As Beverley pointed out look at your language and think, is it said 'sufficiently and efficiently?'

For example, Beverley went on to talk about the physicality of verbs and how much they can convey about a situation and/or how a character is feeling. It also means you can cut down on those pesky adverbs. This is an example I use for my own students. 'The old man shuffled slowly towards the kitchen.' You can cut slowly out immediately as you can't do anything but shuffle slowly. Active verbs can build tension/drama/action when used appropriately. A basic example is suggesting the headteacher 'strode' towards the badly behaving teenagers. It is a much stronger image than just walking. It implies anger or at the very least, purpose.


It was wonderful to catch up with two students from Winchester as well. One former MA student, Sarah Bentley, and one about to be former student, Harrison Bulman. We worked in a group along with the wonderful Zoe Taylor who was the Golden Egg intern until recently. We had a wonderful time dissecting four excerpts that Beverley had given us. It was fascinating listening to everyone's opinion. Luckily we agreed on a lot of stuff.

This is just a mere taster of what Beverley covered last week. I wish I could share more but hopefully it has given you some things to think about when you are editing. I am now off to do some rewriting of my own. Happy weekend.

And because I am working on my dream I thought I would post Bruce Springstein's version:



Saturday, 20 April 2013

Rewriting and editing with a true professional

The indefatigable Imogen
I am lucky, so lucky. Not only do I get to work with my dear friend Imogen Cooper at Golden Egg Academy. But the inimitable Imogen is also working with me on the novel that was originally my PhD. It is very different now. It has grown and strengthened under her guiding hand. She is the Senior Editor for Chicken House Publishing and is award winning, having won and been shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award. (See how lucky I am?)

On Thursday we spent a brain frazzling day on the novel. The woman is so insightful. She is very good at highlighting the things you actually knew needed changing but have been ignoring hoping it was just your imagination. A tip for all: if in your gut you feel something is not working, inevitably you are right. Listen to it. It can be a very good editor and save time later.

One of the worst things about being a creative writing lecturer is that you expect not to make the same mistakes as your students. However, sometimes you just can't see them even though it is all too easy to see it everyone else's work. I can assure it is very cringe making when they are highlighted. But one of the most important things I can bring to my teaching and share with my students is my own experience and processes including the painful ones.

The other important point I will be telling my students is that writing a novel takes time - never a great thing to acknowledge for someone like me who is renowned for being impatient.This is made more difficult by the limited time I find for writing at the moment (as is the case with all writers I am sure). Work just gets in the way and sucks the life out of you. I find sometimes the words flow and other times I could be pulling teeth as I try and put a single word on the page. But hopefully it will all be worth it in the end. I have the summer ahead of me, the joys of being an academic, and that is when I plan to write...as soon as the marking is finished that is!

Working with Imogen is easy. She knows what she is doing and is very clever at helping you to understand what needs to be done without making you feel stupid. She teases the ideas out of you and suddenly there is the light bulb moment as you realise how you can make the story even stronger.  I still love the story I have written and I love what I am going to do to it next. I am killing off three characters and rewriting the beginning. All good stuff.

The fact Imogen has set up Golden Egg Academy means she is just as willing to share her talents with those who want to attend. Time is always a precious commodity but Imogen is so generous with hers. So I will say again I am incredibly lucky to be working with her on so many levels including the fact she has become a great friend and this is my chance to say, thank you Imogen. X

Now I have some rewriting to do and a schedule to keep to. Be back soon.

And here is my tribute to Storm Thorgerson who designed the album covers that illustrated my teenage life and who sadly lost his battle with cancer this week. Here is Pink Floyd's 'The Great Gig in the Sky'

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Exclamation Marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Exclaimed out
This is just a quick post but I have just been drowning in exclamation marks. I have recently marked an assignment that was only 2,000 words long but had 70 (yes that is seventy) exclamation marks in it. And yes, I was sad enough to count them but that is because I became so distracted by the fact that virtually every sentence was ended with one. A cardinal sin as far as I am concerned particularly when writing for children, which this piece was.

For me exclamation marks should be used sparely for added impact. They should be used when you want to shout about something happening. If, however, you fill your piece with them their impact becomes diluted.

Oxford Dictionaries state that 'the main use of the exclamation mark is to end sentences that express: 

  • an exclamation: Ow! That hurt!
  • direct speech that represents something shouted or spoken very loudly: 'Look up there!' she yelled.
  • something that amuses the writer: Included on the list of banned items was 'crochet hooks'!
  • An exclamation mark can also be used in brackets after a statement to show that the writer finds it funny or ironic: She says she’s stopped feeling insecure (!) since she met him.
But even then I would be careful where you use them. I am really going to think about when to use them from now onwards. I had become blinded to them but now I realise how irritating they can become as I read this piece. 

For a start it made me think about the number of times when you are doing an email or a facebook post and you use thousands of exclamations (I am prone to exaggeration by the way) or lots of smiley faces or kisses.

There was a brilliant facebook thread started by Nicola Morgan who had sent a text to her plumber, I think, with a kiss at the end of it by accident. The conversation was full of wonderful examples of cringe making accidental kisses. I occasionally get them from students. I am sure they are harmless but sometimes they can make you feel quite uncomfortable.  But I am equally as guilty. I think it is all related to the fact we often hold conversations via a computer screen or a phone screen rather than face to face so you need to get nuances across and ensure the person the other end doesn't take offence.

Anyway that is off topic, back to the poor old exclamation mark. As I said this was to be a quick post and I am not asking you to never use the exclamation mark when writing but just to think about it. Make sure it has real impact and the reader can concentrate on the story and not the ever breeding exclamation mark!!!!!!!!! (sorry had to be done ;-)  and the smiley face...oh and perhaps a kiss xx)

I heard a snippet of this lady this morning and it made me smile. Here is one of my favourite, if poignant, songs.