Background artiste from 'Better than Stars'

Friday, 26 August 2011

An Award!

Thanks Kate.

And it's virtual too - my favourite. It can be any shape I like. Let me think ... some kind of small furry animal ... a mole. Why? I don't know. Let's see. A blogger is like a mole because ... you toil away in the dark thinking no-one's noticing: meanwhile you're creating little hills all over their lawns.

Just to explain, this beautiful golden statuette of a mole (you need to see it, friends) is a 'One to Follow' award from Kate, aka the Scribbling Sea Serpent.

Now I need to pass the favour on to others. Trouble is, as she says, I'm very new to the blogosphere and I doubt that my recommendations will add much that's new. On the other hand: what an excellent stimulus to follow up a few links I've been meaning to chase.

Watch this space: more Moles will follow - though of course the recipients can also make the award in any image they like ...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Keep Writing, Even if it’s [expletive deleted]!

Desperate Strategies for Getting Started 

Well, I did find a story lurking on my desk. It wasn’t a complete surprise – I knew it was there, but I thought it had died a death. Not a bit of it. Ever since I picked it up, my protagonist has been nagging at me to get on with it. Perhaps this is a time when for once I should shut up and listen. And before I start, I thought it would be useful to remind myself of some strategies for the early stages of a WiP [sounds kinky, but it’s just an acronym for Work in Progress].

This time there will be bullet points on the page. The first one is probably the most important.

·         These are ‘Desperate Strategies’: not because of any element of last hope, but because they (sometimes) work for me.  You may disagree with them, but that’s the nature of writing: what works for one, doesn’t work for everyone. Sorry. Whichever way, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

For what it’s worth, here are the rest:

·         Commit to your idea.

I’ve (more or less) completed three books. That only happened because I learned to tell myself to “keep writing, even if it’s c**p.” Otherwise, they would have ended up in the drawer with all the other novel openings I’ve abandoned.

·         Put some planning in place before you write so much as a sentence on the computer.

This is probably where we’ll really start to disagree, and it threatens to open up a couple of other debates: handwritten vs typewritten first drafts, and planning vs pantsing [writing by the seat of your pants]. I did say these were my strategies ... and suffice to say, if I get a bit ahead of myself, with a general idea of the story arc + a more specific outline for the first three chapters or so, I find point #2 much easier to stick to. I can say to myself, “I know it’s c**p, but you know what’s going to happen, you’ve planned the next chapter, so you might as well carry on.”

·         Tell no-one.

In its embryonic state, a story is a fragile thing. However strong it seems – for me at least – communicating it prematurely will weaken it, probably fatally. So what happens when you have to present and discuss ideas in advance to an agent and/or an editor? All I can say is, I’d love to find out ...

Friday, 19 August 2011

Don’t Get Me Started (Grumpy Post)

Yet again I’ve been brought up short by someone describing their own writing as “literary.” How can they do that?

After years in the field, I am less and less sure what “literature” actually means. More and more, I think it is something someone else thinks you “ought” to be reading: and that is a judgment that can only be made on an author’s work by others, retrospectively.

If by “literary” you mean well-written, don’t we all aspire to that? If you’re breaking norms and conventions, what you are writing is experimental. Only someone else can say it is literature. And the majority of so-called literary authors are dead.

So there.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

If you were a literary character ...

... which would you be?

I recently said I was like Douglas Adams's displaced-person-in-space Arthur Dent. OK he's male, but in other ways he's quite like me: mildly perplexed and still in his dressing gown; adrift in the universe with a man with two heads and three arms, in a spaceship powered by improbablity drive; all of which he's prepared to believe would be much better for a nice cup of tea.

I thought that was a suitably light way of evading the embarassment of having to describe myself properly. However, someone who used to be my friend read it, and said they thought I was rather more like Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit.

Didn't authors use to be able to hide behind a twenty-year-old photo on a dust jacket?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Stirring the Pot

I’m still looking for that story. The theory at the moment is that it might be buried somewhere on my desk, or at least that if I remove the clutter from my workspace it will do something to unblock the log jam in my head.

Shifting aside more soft toy rats than anyone ought to own (don’t ask), so far the most useful things I have found are a lot of pens – it’s a bit like geological layers: there’s an abandoned writing instrument marking the division between each era – and an uncompleted short story: alas I don’t think it’s what I’m looking for. It won’t bear being pumped up into a novella, let alone a fully-fledged book.

This has also prompted me to ask myself what are the most productive strategies for starting new work, as opposed to keeping going once you’ve begun. I thought a bullet point list would look rather nice on the page.

If only it was that simple. After all, it is probably the hardest thing a writer has to do. One thing I am certain about, is that you have to keep writing, keep the wheels oiled as it were – which is partly what I’m doing here. But some time has to be dedicated to the new Work in Progress each day, even if it is only spent staring out of the window, or what I call stirring the pot: writing lots of notes, sketchy plans, fragments of incidents, dialogues with myself ...

Then the moment comes: a snapshot of the action might flood with colour, a voice tug at your heart, a character turn and look you in the eye.  You know that’s it. The story will live.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Desperately Seeking a Story ...

... and, slightly less desperately, a captivating character or two. A vivid turn of phrase, standard grammar and accurate spelling would come in handy as well: but I don’t think they’re as important.
You don’t agree? Shuffle through a pile of novel openings. Which is the one you don’t want to put down: the beautifully written description, or the tantalising hint of a story to follow? No-one ever got a book deal for their brilliant spelling.
OK, we want to communicate clearly and avoid alienating potential agents and publishers with what looks like illiteracy, but these things can be improved on. An editor who loves your book might even help you. They’re not going to fall in love with your grammar and work with you to develop a story. 
So where do the good stories come from? I wish I could remember the author who replied to that question by saying she wished she knew, because if she did, she’d go there. If you know where they come from, I doubt if you’re going to tell us: you’ll want to keep it to yourself. 
Which leaves me, Susan, desperately seeking a story ...

Thursday, 4 August 2011

No Short Story Cuts

Need I say more?

Maybe I should. I love Radio 4. Their short story slot  is a great listen, and it offers a wonderful opportunity for writers. The threat to close it to make way for a longer news broadcast resulted in an outcry. You know what to do.