Thursday, 6 December 2012

Lancashire Writing Hub

I have just finished a three month stint as guest editor on The Lancashire Writing Hub. You can see what I've been up to here. Thank you to all the fantastic writers who have contributed during my time there, and They Eat Culture, Jane Brunning and John Rutter for your support. I'm delighted to pass the baton onto Carys Bray who will be guest editor through December.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Flax 030 The Language of Footprints available on ereader

Looking for something new (and free!!) for your ereader?

Flax 030, The Language of Footprints published by Litfest is now available in ereader format. I am delighted to have a short story in here 'The Key Safe', alongside Naomi Kruger's story 'Causeway', and Ian Hill's piece of creative non fiction "Instar'. To read them, click here. You may need to download Calibre to do this successfully.

Sarah Jasmon, who was the brilliant reviewer for Litfest 2012, has written a lovely piece on The Language of Footprints collection on her blog here.

New Writing Cumbria also reviewed the collection.

It is such a delight to be involved with this project, and to play a small part in Litfest 2012.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Bio Punk: available on Amazon in ebook or paperback

Programmable memories, fatherless reproduction, nano-tech implants, amphibian-powered scar treatment, full body modification, brain-scanning lie-detectors, inter-species reproduction, self-determining synthetic ‘green goo’… 

All of this and more in Bio Punk; a true science / fiction collaboration, published by Comma Press and supported by the Wellcome Trust. Bio Punk anthology of short stories, (including one by me and my wonderful collaborator scientist Angharad Watson) is available on Kindle now, too! See Amazon to purchase a copy in paper or ebook format.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Bio Punk: Stories from the far side of research

I am really proud to have a story in this.

Bio Punk is an anthology of stories, commissioned by Comma Press, from established and emerging writers. The premise of each story is for writers to partner up with scientists or ethicists at the cutting edge of their field of research. They get together and the scientist shares aspects of their work with the writer. The writer then goes away and creates a story based on factual information about that particular area of scientific research. Each story is carefully checked and followed in the book with an afterword by the partner scientist to verify the content of the story. It's a dynamic, stimulating idea, bringing perceived disparate subjects, literature and science, into close quarters. Bio Punk is the third and final book using this scientific collaboration, following on from When it Changed and Litmus. Having admired both these titles and their premise, it was an honour to be commissioned for this one.

Dr Angharad Watson, (or 'my scientist' as I affectionately claim her in my head) has been a brilliant collaborator in this project. We met up at her laboratory and I couldn't make notes quickly enough. She is really inspiring, and her passion for her work is infectious. The 'what if...' questions just kept coming and Angharad was fantastic at answering them. Our particular area of discussion was over-the-counter remedies; the stuff you can buy in chemists or supermarkets without a prescription or consultation and that doesn't have to go through any clinical trials but can still be marketed as having medicinal benefits. The story, 'Shake me and I Rattle', came out of this.

Bio Punk was launched last week as part of the Manchester Literature Festival, with readings from authors Jane Feaver and Gregory Norminton, and scientist collaborators Dr Melissa Baxter and Dr Nihal Engin Vrana on Skype link. Well done, and many thanks, to the Comma Press team, especially Ra Page; a brilliantly encouraging and perceptive editor to work with.

To purchase your very own, gorgeous copy of Bio Punk, click here.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Ainscough's Revisited

I'm delighted to have completed the piece of fiction for the Litfest 2012 commission based on Ainscough's Flour Mill (see more here). 

I am a bit rubbish at self reflection. I wonder if other writers are like this - you get your piece finished, send it off and then just press on with the next project. I think maybe it's because the thought of having nothing 'out there' is a bit terrifying and I just want to keep writing, not reflecting. And also, I am hesitant to trespass on a finished story. Like it's not really mine anymore. If it's good enough it will be fine on its own, without me explaining, chewing over the roots of it. Once it's there, I would usually rather build a fence around it and leave the thing for readers to explore without me following them round pointing things out like a National Trust volunteer. I am an idiot, though. I know writing about the creative process is far more than this. And my hesitance is silly and unfortunate because I absolutely adore reading about other writers processes and getting an insight into how they've shaped their text. I actively seek out this kind of information in blogs and conversations. So this time, when I was asked to write a bit about the starting points for the landscape project by Lancashire Writing Hub, I climbed over the fence and had a go. The other two commissioned writers, Ian Hill and Naomi Kruger also wrote about their process in creating the commissioned landscape pieces. They are really very interesting. It is a joy to be involved in this project with writers I admire. 

It was lovely to be invited to take some images of the mill for some artwork to go alongside the story. Returning, after completing the commission was an interesting experience. I tried to see how my main character, Abi, would see it. What would she focus on? How would it look through her eyes and experiences? Would she stop and take photographs of the ducks like I always do? (No, I don't think she would.) The way I see the mill building now is slightly different. I've explored it in my head obsessively. I have repossessed it, inhabited it and although I've never actually been inside, I feel like I know it intimately. I know my version of it. My version of the truth of it. It was lovely to compare notes with Claire Massey on this, who has been the most wonderful editor throughout the process. Claire said "I always feel like I've layered story over places I know with indelible ink and the stories become more like memories than fictions." 

All of my characters in this story (bar the landlord and lady) are fictitious. Only the landscape, I thought would be 'real'. Although I wonder if the landscape is now fiction, too. As soon as we begin our narrative we can't help but fictionalise what we think is really there. And all in the story that we think is made up meets in the middle and slowly becomes more like memory.

Naomi, Ian and I will be reading our commissioned pieces at LICA, Lancaster on 21st October 2012, at 12pm, as part of the all day prose shindig. There are so many fantastic things happening throughout the festival. See the full Litfest 2012 program here.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Watching the Tide in Another Place

Feeling a little lack lustre at the laptop, I braved the rain and headed out today. Crosby beach is one of my favourite places. I find the Antony Gormley installation here, Another Place, fascinating.

 Originally the iron figures that stand staring out into the Irish sea were only supposed to be in place for a short period, but local people campaigned to keep them permanently on the beach.

Some of the figures appear to be sinking into the sand, others ride up out of it on their little pedestals, where the contours of the beach have altered over time.

This a place where metaphors seem to come easily. There is something redolent about the figures. The manner in which they just stand gazing.

I find sea landscapes evocative. The way the elements turn all that stand in their way vulnerable. The sun, sea, wind and salt minerals bash the hell out of everything, taking it all right back to its reality. It destroys all that is superficial, all that can't withstand it, so what is left is something hardy; imperfectly honest. You can see this in the weathered iron men. There is something grotesquely beautiful in the pocked rough-smooth of the ironwork. The tones and textures of the metal.

 Sometimes, at a distance, it is hard to tell human from iron man.

 There's something of the Kuleshov Effect about the figures. A whole spectrum of emotions and perspectives can be projected onto them. I find it incredible how specifically emotive their neutral, naive posture can become.

What are they looking at? who, or what, are they waiting for? Why are they each on their own? What effect would be created by positioning them differently - in pairs or groups or facing a different way? If they were turned around, would they appear to be positively looking at Crosby dunes and town, or negatively turning their backs on the sea? Would it seem like they had just emerged from the water?

The figures appear and then disappear under the receding and encroaching tides. They stand ankle, knee, thigh, waist, shoulder... deep in the water, unmoved by the danger that surrounds them. Obliviously lost in their meditation. Or brave in the face of it. I would love to see them under the water, to see if they look different in an alien element. A bit like Jason De Caires Taylor underwater sculptures.

 And as wistful as they can appear, if you put a bit of knitting around their ankles, they can even look mildly embarrassed, like they lost their drawers and now don't know whether to pretend it isn't happening, whilst giving a small embarrassed smile.

Or did he drop them on purpose?
There is always the danger when you take small children to the beach of what they will find and pick up that's been washed up on the tide. Tampon applicators, used condoms... and while I wish there was no rubbish to wash up on the tide line, I still find it morbidly fascinating. This flotsam of natural, sea creature remains, shells, weed all tangled up, wood bleached and rounded by its long journey, rubbing up next to the raw human rubbish of plastic caps, containers, unidentifiable components that all have the same water beaten look. There is something indiscriminate about it. Sometimes it is hard to tell which bits are designed by humans or the sea. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Narrative Dance

I have run a couple of creative dance sessions this last month, covering for my friend, Katie Whitehead who set up the group. Katie runs a fantastic organisation called Divine Days, making the Arts available to all, working with both individuals and community groups. Do check out her website for more details.

Katie and I used to run a youth Arts Club together a few years ago, so it is nice to be collaborating again. I absolutely love working with her Creative Dance group. Members are a very varied collective of people living with addition needs. Each person brings something unique and marvellous to the ensemble and the variety of perspective and experience adds another dimension to the work they produce.

When Katie asked if I could cover a couple of sessions for her, I asked what she would like me to do. Anything, she said. The group relish and adapt to creative challenges. I took her word for it, and went with an autumnal theme as it seemed pertinent. I had this idea for a narrative dance, so we explored the idea of a landscape in autumn, firstly, choosing our music (we plumped for Puccini's 'Humming Chorus' from Madama Butterfly) and started by listening to the music and considering what we might feel or experience as we move through an autumnal landscape. We pieced together a strong piece of narrative dance, telling the story of our journey through the autumn scene. We decided we wanted to end the piece with a physical sculpt, drawing all of our stories together. The finished performance is something we hope to add to the dance showcase which will be happening soon.

It has been a real privilege to work with the Creative Dance group and I'm looking forward to collaborating with them again soon.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Word at Astley Hall

Astley Hall by socialBedia on Flickr.
On Saturday I was at The Word. An event set up by a group of wonderful writers from Chorley, it was a day to listen, learn and share, with a lovely lunch, book swap and writerly tour of Astley Hall all thrown in.

Award-winning blogger Kate Feld spoke about blogging for writers, so expect a few improvements here in the near future, while I implement some of her advice. (...faint sighs of relief from my committed yet tiny group of readers...)

Ra Page from Comma Press spoke about how to approach publishers and agents. It was lovely to catch up with Ra briefly afterwards. I'm very excited about the release of Bio - Punk next month; their latest science into fiction anthology. More on that soon.

Claire Massey spoke about the short story, and her approaches to creating short fiction. I feel exceptionally lucky to be working with Claire on the Litfest Landscape project. More about that soon, too!

The feature interview was with Kerry Wilkinson, author of the massively popular Jessica Daniel crime series on ebook, who has just got a deal with Pan Macmillan. I was caught between awe-filled admiration for a guy who has achieved such brilliant literary success, and then wondering if a lynching was going to happen when he indicated he didn't really read books himself. I couldn't tell if he was being deliberately provocative, or if he was a tiny bit embarrassed about how easy he finds it all. Either way, I've bought his first novel and I'm really looking forward to reading it. He was a brilliant guest speaker.

To sum up, I arrived with that sensation I sometimes get that I'm on the edge of a ridiculous precipice of literary failure and should give up and get a proper job. But I left feeling inspired, in admiration of brilliant writerly friends I'd spent time with that day and with a clutch of fantastic new books to read.

If The Word team plan another day, I highly recommend it. I will see you there.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Card Carrying

I've just spent far too long agonising over business cards. And I feel silly about it, so what better way to salve that than tell the world at large about my general embarrassment. Somewhere in my psyche, telling people that something embarrasses me makes it feel less embarrassing. Confessional.

I'm going to The Word, a day for writers in Lancashire, in a couple of weeks. I am really looking forward to spending time talking to and learning from writers I really admire. We are encouraged to bring, amongst other things, business cards. I've been meaning to make some up for ages, in an attempt to offer something more slick than the ripped out biro'ed details I find myself doing when requested that will almost certainly fall into that black hole of ripped out biro'ed papers as soon as we part ways.

In the past I've got as far as researching designs online, and maybe playing with fonts. The emotional block comes with the assertion, under my name, of putting 'Writer'. It just feels a bit too sure of myself. It's not that I don't think I'm a writer. It's what I do all day every day. It's what I am making a (limited) income from now. But it's what I worry other people might think of me, which is stupid; when I see other people's business cards, I think; "Oh, that's really useful. Nice logo..." and that's about the extent of it.

The thing is, I love to do, make, write, create, build, lead groups, I think I'm okay at it...(cringe), but something terribly English prevents me from pointing it out. And making a business card is the ultimate in self promotion. It assumes people will want it, or that I would be so bold as to offer it.

So. My tack has been to produce a card I think is so utterly lovely that I might give it out simply to share the image on the front. "Yes, it's nice isn't it? Oh, that, on the back? That's just my contact details, should you need them."

Friday, 17 August 2012

Landscape Orientation

Ainscough Flour Mill, Lancs
I am totally thrilled and delighted to have had a proposal I put forward commissioned. I am one of three writers commissioned by Litfest to write a piece on 'Landscape' to be published in the next Flax ebook as part of Litfest 2012.

When I saw the request for proposals a few weeks ago, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about. There is an abandoned, derelict Flour Mill in my village that has always held a fascination for me. Its distinctive silhouette rises out of the otherwise flat landscape. It has been slowly crumbling into itself for years. Like a beacon, you can navigate by its high rising chimney and zigzag roofline. It has been bought by a development company who keep making noises about turning it into luxury apartments. And this moment, just before that change, seems important to capture.

It is a monstrously beautiful place that has formed a backdrop to so much of my life. It is the marker that shows when you are about to arrive at the village train station. It hunches beside the canal my husband and I walk along when we want to get fresh air or need to chew over stuff. When I was little it was the site for epic water fights, using the walls and crevices as defences as we ran around it in sodden teeshirt and shorts. I've wanted to write about it for AGES and this is a perfect opportunity to do that.

I have started to piece together some ideas for my short story. It is tempting to go down the predictable routes, haunted old building, faces appearing high up at windows where the levels have no floors, squatters and break ins... but I want to try a different angle. Initial thoughts were around getting someone into the building legitimately and so I was thinking about bat surveyors - every building up for development has to have a bat survey for the planning permission. This is still a possible area for the story (and definitely one I will write one day) but I want to ensure I stick to the landscape brief. I fear if I go too far down the bat hunting route, I will get myself lost inside the building and not give enough to the way the building as a whole affects the village landscape.

I'm excited to get started on this and also to see where the other two commissioned writers go with the brief on their chosen landscapes, celebrating the areas that are sometimes overlooked.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Are we all a tiny bit self centred... or is it just me?

Although sport is probably one of my Least Favourite Things I really enjoyed watching the Olympics. I found myself irretrievably hooked. Even the dancing horses, erm... dressage, and the diving. I want Jess Ennis to be my bff and I keep doing the Mo Farah Mo-Bot at strangers.

The Olympics, sports in general, have never held much appeal for me. It was taught appallingly at my school by some of the PE staff. I was given a really negative report once because I wasn't very good at running. Constructive? Not very. Actually, when I returned to deliver an assembly at the same school years later and spoke about completing the Great North Run, the same teacher audibly scoffed. Nice.

So why were the Olympics so enticing this time? Why did I find myself crying with uncontrollable and embarrassing frequency? Hard to admit, but I think it's self centredness. Maybe we are all a tiny bit like this? When we hear a song on the radio or see friends getting married, or watch some crappy story line unfolding on a TV programme and feel that lump growing in the throat, probably part of it is empathy, but the greater part is because somewhere in our minds it has tapped into our own feelings, morphed into our own experiences and turned us inward to understand the emotions around our own life experiences, struggles and joys.

So the Olympics this time, the race, the striving for something significant, something that feels vitally important, tapped directly into why I write. And like the sports men and women, the fact that writing is something I enjoy completely, feel lucky to be able to do, even when I'm smarting after another failure or rejection letter, I want to keep trying. I find writing really very difficult. I don't think I'm particularly good at it a lot of the time. But I know that if I try really really hard, and keep trying, I will get better. Half the battle is just keeping going when other people have given up; keep going because it matters too much to stop. And to watch, listen and learn from the people around who are doing it too. Lessons learnt - keep going, try harder, and develop some sort of Mo-Bot style victory move for when things are going to plan.  

Thursday, 5 July 2012

MCBF the teeshirt...

Today I volunteered at a Manchester Children's Book Festival event. It was a poetry reading with Carol Ann Duffy and fellow poets Mandy Coe, Philip Gross, Grace Nichols and John Agard with fantastic musical accompaniment from John Sampson and his wide range of wind instruments.

This event really worked to my strengths - my obsession with health and safety ("where are the exits and disabled lifts?") And chaperoning school children and teachers to Lecture Theatre 1 honed my cat-herding skills. Actually, the young people were really well behaved, as were the poets... mostly! The whole event was planned with the kind of attention to detail that excites my youth work sensibilities - everything ready on arrival, a clear tick list spreadsheet and I even got a snazzy teeshirt! The event was brilliant. You can read more on the official blog here. A great do! Thank you to the performers and Manchester Writing School for organising such a great festival event.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Back to School

I spent yesterday shadowing fantastic poet Ian Bland at a primary school in Rochdale. Ian writes poetry for children and travels all over the country running poetry workshops in schools. He is absolutely brilliant. By the end of the day, every Junior child had written their own poem. Ian is definitely someone to book if you are a primary school Literacy Coordinator or Head Teacher. Shadowing was a great opportunity to see primary school workshopping modelled so that I can refine and improve my own skills and ideas for running creative writing workshops.

It really is difficult to pay bills from just writing stories (sorry, if this sounds whingy... I know I'm lucky to be able to do what I'm doing. And please no one mention JKR...) Working as a writer in schools is a way to supplement my wage. But actually the financial incentive is not the major motivator for me. I just really miss working with people. There is something horribly indulgent in spending all day every day writing. What I loved about the youth work job I packed in to write full time is that it felt like I was actually doing something constructive in other people's lives. I felt like I was contributing to society. Being useful.

I realised how much I miss working with children and young people and LOVED putting that 'hat' back on again yesterday.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Wowfest Flash

When Mr S and I went to FACT cinema in Liverpool to see Prometheus, I had to subdue a moment of sudden delight as I saw a piece of my flash fiction stuck on the wall by the cinema bar. All the entries into the Wowfest flash fiction competition are stuck up there at the moment. I had sort of forgotten that that was going to happen. Honestly! So I affected a nonchalant air; a 'this happens all the time' shrug, and then posed by it for a couple of snaps. I am so completely transparent. Sadly, mine didn't make the shortlist, but the three fantastic winners can be found here, including one of my favourites from brilliant poet, writer and blogger Clare Kirwan.

It does look rather lovely, with all the stories pasted up. Something to read whilst your companion goes for a pre-film wee. Ideal really. The theme was the end of the world. I have to say we didn't make much of Prometheus, it was less than earth shattering. But Wowfest's lovely installation easily made up for it for me.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Oh, blimey. I'm reading one of my flash fiction pieces at Flashtag's Writing Competition event in Chorlton tomorrow. And as usual, before any reading, I feel pretty vomity today. The story is about allotment gardening sexploits; affairs, lies and hardening off. Spare my blushes. I'll have to pretend I'm not the prude I am for a couple of hours (...or perhaps release my inner Mistress.)

So today, I'm trying to edit something for the Bridport Prize, as the deadline is looming at the end of this month. I've had a series of very interrupted days where I've got to the point that I want to be rude to people and slam phones / doors etc. and be left alone for more than one hour altogether to get stuck into my work. Does everyone working from home experience this? People assume you're fair game to be visited / interrupted because you are in? Usually I don't mind, just shuffle in a coffee break I was going to have anyway... but this week is turning a bit epic. To the point that I wonder if I'm the victim of some odd Derren Brown mind game, where they are seeing how far I can be pushed before I sort of explode in violently criminal ways, only to be hypnotised back to mild mannered unassertiveness.

So anyway, on with Bridport. I'm working on a short story and maybe I'll send in a flash fiction entry, too. It would be rude not to. I won't win. I know I won't. The closest I've ever got with Bridport was the shortlist. But a story stands no chance if it doesn't even make it off your screen. And there is something important about seeing the process through and sending work out. When it bounces back I regard it slightly differently, like I want to keep it in play. It needs to keep moving. So I tighten, change, rearrange, swap feedback with other writers and then ping it off again. Hopeful that, eventually, it will catch somewhere.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

National Flash Fiction Day

I love a good flash, me. Tiny complete micro stories of up to about 500 words. David Gaffney, a brilliant writer of flash fiction, writes about it here in the Guardian. And today is the first national celebration of the tiny genre.

There's a minority who are a bit sniffy about flash fiction... making comments like it's an exercise for writing not reading etc. I'm usually the first to back down in any argument, just for a peaceful life, but I would say these doubters are just plain wrong. And probably idiots, too. (And if I hear/read another 'flash-in-the-pan pun I might micro-punch someone.)

Flash fiction is deceptively hard to write well. There's a lot of crap ones that fall into anecdote, or something like your dad would tell as a joke when he's trying to do stand up. 

What I love is that to be a good flash fiction, every single word works really hard. Every word and stanza is chewed over, moved round, tightened like a nut into place to create a really closely honed story. At the same time it needs to feel effortless - like it sort of just hatched perfectly from an egg or something. The reader shouldn't, in my opinion, feel like they are expected to step carefully round it like a piece of abstract art. They should enter into it and consume. It has to be enjoyed without feeling like the writer is leaning over your shoulder to check that you 'got' it. 

Below, is a flash I wrote. It's not my best, but it's the shortest flash I've ever written at 165 words. And that seemed pertinent for today. I hope you enjoy!

Apocalyptic Middle Age

When it happened we went underground and ate tinned meat and lentils someone had thought to bring.
Through shadow days and sulphurous nights we slowly digested ourselves and tried to hold our snippy tongues. We found ancient, urgent entertainment. Within a year we’d sporned our tendrils further down. Babies wriggled the echoing, narrow gauge tunnels, their eyes filming like Mexican Tetras.
Grounded and trapped we grew nostalgic for a past that our children would never grasp or comprehend like us. Breathlessly recalling details by flickering light; Fraggle Rock, Slouch Socks and Teddy Ruxpin... Pop Tarts and Party Rings… Paula Abdul, Magic Eye and those thumbed pages in Forever… Skip-Its, He Man and NKOTB Hangin’ Tough...
And then someone suggested it might all be over.
We mushroomed through the crust. Emerged. Just brushed our feet through the dust of what was. A lonely, orange moon floated like a toy we’d outgrown and we set our children down into the ash of their future.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Burning Bridges

 In the process of spring tidying, I unearthed some notebooks full of angsty poetry and notes from my adolescence. They're embarrassing. They're cringy. But, my word, how much we fudge our memories. I think a lot of people forget what it was really like (honestly, without the gloss or protection of time's passage) to be a kid. Those who have kept similarly cringy notebooks might identify with this. Flicking through the yellowing pages and feeling the stab of things you hadn't quite remembered right; the complex friendships, obsessions with (mostly unsuitable) boys through endless reams of imitation poetry. I discovered Adrian Henri when I was in my early teens and much of the writing in these little notebooks has his stamp all over it. I am blushing just writing this...  

I decided they had to go because I would be mortified if anyone ever read them. They're intensely personal, aching with hormonal over-emphasis of probably insignificant situations and events, but when I wrote them they were important to me no matter how petty the content seems now. They're informative of who I was then, and ultimately make a piece of the picture of the adult I am now and will be in the future. This is not for public consumption. It is boring to anyone except me and perhaps those who really (really) love me.  Writers, you know that moment when you're at a creative writing workshop and someone is reading their piece of fiction and you realise with sickening certainty that what they are reading is autobiography thinly veiled as fiction? That.

Also, they're not reflective of the writer I am today. Every time I write, I try to get a tiny bit better at it. To see these early awkward attempts is painful... there is a need to let go of it. Move on.

So I burnt them on our BBQ. I know - a bit dramatic for some stupid teen scribblings. But it felt right. Besides, our shredder is broken and bin day isn't until next Tuesday. So. Funnily enough they didn't burn that well, as if they were resisting it. A bit of lighter fluid did the job (pyromaniac at heart...) but I lost my nerve when the smoke started getting a bit thick and, panicking about neighbours calling the fire brigade, I doused the lot with the hose. It could have been a romantically poignant moment, but it became a bit of a farce. That will teach me to navel gaze and to just get on with writing.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Writer's tics... and finding my lobster

Lobster by Stacy Lynn Baum on Flickr

I've been thinking about writing tics. In fact, I've been thinking about one specific tic that seems to be cropping up in everything I read. I'm finding it really very annoying. It is this:

"And yet... and yet,"

I know. It's a petty thing. There's nothing really bad about it. Used correctly, it's quite an intelligently snazzy conjunction. It has been used by such literary greats as Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde. Indeed, until the overkill set in, I'd aspired to its confident little stylistic rhythm. And yet... and yet, this is the very reason it has started to get under my skin. It is like that person who talks too much, only pausing at the point at which you can't interrupt, and then presses on with another self important stream. You know how Mrs. Thatcher used to? It is tired. Overused. The sparkle has gone.

Two other things that I'm reading a lot in books that I'm Bored Bored Bored of are: writers writing novels about writers, characters who are writers, navel gazing novels about writing...(you get the picture) and things 'nestling' (phones nestling in bags, chocolates nestling in choc boxes, objects nestling in drawers) Its true sense has been lost. Please say it differently.

But, um, it would be unfair to criticise without acknowledging some of my own tics, too. I'm probably more annoyed by my own, to be honest. The worst offenders? There are always birds in my stories, usually sparrows. Often dead... My characters have names like Bea, Frank and Pete, an unhealthily narrow menage trois of names, clearly, who frequent 1920's styled independent coffee shops and drink far too many cappuccinos. When they eat out, they often order something stewy or casseroled that they dip bread in. They play with their food. And man, are they clumsy? Unable to keep the wine in their glasses. Also, they smile at each other. Far, far too much.

This week I'm trying to write something really really fresh. I heard a fantastic story on BBC Radio 4 last week.  Jenni Mills read her story 'Cleaning the Silver', an actually chilling tale with visceral descriptions of eating lobster. The lobster was a tremendous hook into a dark narrative read for International Woman's Day. It was inspiring and has set me searching for my lobster; my fresh hook. Writing tics be ware...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Does it make me a bad person...?

Image by Mia Eley
I know I care far too much about what people think of me.

With that in mind, for ages (since roughly a week after my last post) I've been Very Bothered about not having written another blog post. I always get this nagging feeling. A bit like when you know you should have called a friend back but keep putting it off and you don't really know why.

I won't make excuses (I could... but you see, that's the whole point...) I am delighted to think people might read what I write here. But I know their world won't fall apart if there is nothing fresh on my blog for a while. Equally my world won't end, a fairy won't die, I won't suffer seven years bad luck, Santa will still come at Christmas, I will effectively still exist, even if my internet self is set on ice for a bit.

I know of many writers and bloggers who worry about this. And it eats at creative energy.

Kona MacPhee sums it up beautifully in her article 'Blogaholic' in the latest edition of Mslexia magazine. Particularly where she quotes poet and novelist Ros Barber who says "Now I blog once or twice a month and it's more like breathing on the glass to prove I'm still here."

I will probably be breathing on the glass in the next few days. But I won't worry too much if it takes me a bit longer.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Back home to a crisis of identity... or two

And I'm home from an amazing 'research' trip round South America. And it was nice while it lasted! Oh well. 

But I have a notebook full of illegibly scribbled ideas for me to decipher! Sitting back down at the laptop to write was very strange. I'd forgotten how to do the simplest thing... like access Twitter. So much for neural pathways. I now have the attention span of a cat with ADHD, but I'm forcing myself to sit back down and type words one after another until I get my writing mojo back and can be creative again without feeling drawn away to make coffee, empty the dishwasher, check twitter... But it really is a joy to be home and getting stuck into some projects I'd put on hold before leaving the country last September.

 I've also finally had a chance to read through my short stories that have appeared in women's magazines while I've been away. On the whole it is delightful to see the latest batch in print. And I am slightly bemused and cheered by the some of the artwork crafted to go alongside the pieces... funny seeing someone else's interpretation of the characters. One mag, though, has changed the name of one of my characters... obviously, the happens all the time and in itself is no problem at all... except that they only changed the name halfway through the piece. Hilariously, the main characters husband starts as one person and ends as a completely different one. I was slightly concerned readers would think it was MY error. But more troubling was that they would try to factor it into the plot and think that the main character had two men on the go... And it's definitely not that kind of magazine. But hopefully it brightened up someone's day!

Today I've been working on a piece for The Writers and Artists Competition 2012 to flex my creaking creative muscles. The theme is 'identity' which sparked some ideas... I spent a lot of the day researching arson, rats, water voles and bad taxidermy. I'm so glad my work adds so much richness and useful stuff to society... hmmm.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Booked Up: the joys of book swapping around South American hostels.

It begins as a mild gnawing panic that grows as your fingers flick quickly - counting the pages remaining of your current book. It's your last one. You're in a bus terminal in Uruguay with a 22 hour journey ahead of you.

I've become a junky - I need to know, as we travel, where my next bookshelf hit will come from. I need at least one book stashed in my backpack incase I can't get to the next supply in time. 

Before going travelling I thought of myself as a 'slow reader'. It took me, for example,three months to finish Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas' loving every slowly digested sentence. But outside the rhythm of my usual life I'm gobbling down a book every few days.

Delightfully, most hostels have a bookswap shelf. Occasionally dusty, yellowing titles in a frustration of German, Swedish and Spanish. But often flourishing with a gorgeously eclectic selection to choose from. And always at least one book I've always wanted to read and not got round to or something I would normally not touch with a barge pole. Reading, at home, is a precious investment of my 'slow readers' time not to be wasted on rivolous things (I'm only going to live so long and there's too many amazing books to squander on badly written ones) But travelling, with my newfound speed-read skills I've got freedom to read anything on offer. Even the trashy stuff...

I've swapped my way through hostels in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecaudor, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil. I sucked up my crime fiction snobbery and thoroughly enjoyed a Kathy Reichs and developed a girl crush on Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta. I finally got round to reading David Nicholls´ ´One Day´ and Marquez ´One Hundred Years of Solitude´. Both brilliant. the list goes on....

There is a good earthliness about book swapping. And, better to give than recieve,  there´s something wholesome about leaving a cracker behind you. I don´t know what writerly stance to take on this circulation of a book for free. As someone who shuns illegal downloading (morally... and also because I´m afraid of the internet police) is this a tiny bit similar? But no... actually if it was some book I´d written, I think I would be pleased. My story, travelling around the world like a little stowaway, languishing in hostels until jumping the next appropriate backpack out of there. 

Right. Off to the beach with ´The Talented Mr Ripley´. A Caipirihna and some casual psychopathy; what a perfect way to conclude our travels. Home in just a few days... when my snail pace reading will surely resume.