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 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.

Monday 8 April 2013

Finding your voice

Al Alverez talks about the idea that when you read a novel the voice tells you a story. We all know how important it is as sometimes in rejections letters you find the response ‘the voice just wasn’t strong enough for me.’ ‘I am looking for a really strong voice.’ ‘Your story just didn’t come alive.’ Getting a strong voice is really important as you become a writer. When you start writing you become a bit of a tart. You try on lots of different voices, fall in love with them and then equally as quickly disregard them and move on to the next. These voices might be influenced by books or poetry you are reading, favourite films. But you need to find your own and while you hone your craft your voice will become stronger. Have faith. You will begin to trust your own voice rather than copying others. This is when your story will start to come alive. But voice is not straight forward. It consists of lots of things.

There are times when I am marking work when everything is on the page as it should be. There are characters, a story line and a setting, but it still feels flat. There is no life to it. I don’t experience the story as I read it. And that’s what I want. I want a story that draws me in so I forget that the rest of the world is happening. When it works, for that moment I am lost in between those enticing pages. As I mark I will often write things like: show not tell, point of view, tone, get rid of the authorial voice, give me a sense of place, let me know your characters. Getting these right will help you start to make your story come to life.

The editor, Beverley Birch says, “'Voice' is so much more than tone of the writing and what the characters actually say.  It's a web of impressions, speech, and thought, and perceptions, and physicality, and a whole lot more. It rises from the writer’s subconscious, but it is also something that has to be worked at, refined, honed, made apt and truthful.  It's instinct and inspiration, but also craft and requires boldness and exploration, and a finely tuned ear for the detail.”

Nobody can give you a voice, but we can give you the tools to help. If you are interested, Beverley Birch and Imogen Cooper are doing a workshop on the ‘voice’ entitled ‘Through the Narrator’s Eye’ at the end of April as part of Golden Egg Academy. Check it out here.

Or if you don’t want a full workshop perhaps book an editorial surgery where we can talk through some of the issues of voice. First surgeries are in London on 11th May. Check it out here . Scroll down below the in-depth reports to find where you can book.

And just because it seems like a beautiful day to start writing and finding your voice

Sunday 7 April 2013

For P...

A moment from the good times
This post is  especially for P. I hope you find your way back to us very soon. We love you and miss you so much. You gave me my first book of poetry and set me on my writing journey so it seems only right I should post this:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

And below is a family song. I hope you can remember it from numerous weddings and parties. We sang it at the end of my 50th party. Paul, Leo, Toby, Charlie and Greg all did us proud with their singing and dancing. We will sing it again with you very soon, I am sure. Love Nxxx