Wednesday 31 July 2013


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.'