Tag Archives: novel

Time to write?

‘I’d love to write a book, if only I had the time,’ I wish I had a pound for every time  someone has said that to me. I think it’s one of the most insulting things you can say to a writer. it implies that writing is a time-wasting activity of little importance, indulged in by those who neglect the duties of life for their own self-indulgence.

The  opposite is usually true, most writers fill in writing around career or day job and family responsibilities. Even if writers make a living they work as hard if not harder than many people in traditional jobs. There is no switching off at five o’clock , weekends or on holidays and who else carries a notebook at all times, ears flapping and eyes on stalks for the next original idea?

Actual writing is only a small, if the best, part of the job. There are the endless revisions, the critique groups to attend, the process of self-publishing or working with agent and publisher and increasingly nowadays writers must constantly promote themselves by attending literary events and readings, preparing and running writing workshops and courses and maintaining a plethora of social media profiles.

Finding time to actually write can be so difficult. One writer told me she wrote for ten minutes in the toilet each morning as this was the only place she could find privacy from her large family.  I can’t help wondering how she managed to access creative thinking in such a short space of time. Even if you do have space and time to write, self-discipline can be a major problem, there are always a million things you suddenly need to do before you can actually get down to putting pen to paper. The time you spend prevaricating however is not wasted, it is usually the first step in getting your unconscious to work on the piece of writing ahead of you.

Dedicated writers often have a separate office or garden room to separate home and working life but only those making a good living can afford this. Timetabling set periods for writing can be very useful, hopefully more than ten minutes at once. I find I need thinking time to recap what went before and preview what is coming next. I work well first thing in the morning before getting up. An hour with a cup of tea to start never fails to produce results. During the day there are too many distractions so I confine myself to research or typing up and editing work already handwritten. I always take my writing with me when I go out and generally wangle a coffee in a cafe  somewhere along the line. 30-40 minutes with a large latte will usually produce upwards of 1000 words. Funnily ambient noise doesn’t bother me, yet the slightest sound at home will drive me insane.

I’m a fast writer once I get started but tend to spend quite a lot of time in reverie playing out scenes in my head and I do spend time planning out a scene or chapter loosely before getting down to it.

So this is how I find time to write. I do believe writing is a compulsion and those of us who must write will find the time to do so somehow. This is why we are writers while others just wish they had the time. But, I wonder can you write too much? That’s a subject for a whole new blogpost.

Five go on a writing retreat to Builth Wells

Five members of Skelmersdale Writers’ Group, including myself went on writing retreat in two pine lodges sited on the edge of the river Wye the week before last.

This was our second retreat and it was so good I’m sure we’re going to make it an annual event. Last year there were four of us and we stayed in one lodge at Hay-on-Wye. This year there were five of us so we needed two lodges so that we could have a room each to ensure privacy to write.

We had  a routine established from the previous year that we would write all  morning, meet for lunch, then either go for  a walk in the lovely surroundings or have a trip out to one of the local towns, then more writing before sharing dinner and a few glasses of wine before having a joint feedback session  on the day’s work. We usually finished off by relaxing with a film or TV programme.

This worked very well as it is important to balance work with rest and leisure and time to think. A writing retreat is a fantastic opportunity to focus on a specific project. I took with me a completed novel that needed final editing and revision and I managed to finish that but I was also keen to do some new writing so I allocated part of each day to a partly-written novel that I  had left hanging while editing and preparing other work for publication.

We did have to cook but we managed this by joint shopping trips, taking turns to prepare meals and making simple meals so that we were all able to relax. I think we all really enjoyed it and I was pleased to come home with a briefcase full of work and plans for the future. The seven days went over so quickly. Our hosts at Boatside Holiday Accommodation were wonderful and we had everything we needed and absolute peace to get on with our work. November is an ideal time because the holiday season is over so we  more or less had this beautiful location to ourselves and the accommodation is more readily available and less expensive than earlier in the season.

I came home energised and refreshed and I can’t wait to go back again next year, perhaps even more of Skelmersdale Writers will be retreating next time!

 

 

 

 

 

The Museum of You and some thoughts on possessions

I’ve been reading Carys Bray’s book The Museum of You and it made me think about the relevance of possessions in our  lives today.

Before industrialisation, possessions were few and most people had no need of keys and locks but now, because our economies are driven by production and consumption we amass hundreds? thousands? of objects in our lifetimes. Do they actually mean that much to us?

I occasionally sell off a prized doll from my collection but the loss of the loved object is soon forgotten in the desire to acquire something else. At the end of the day, how many of my possessions, things I think express who I am, will be valued and kept by my family?

Every weekend at the house clearance stalls at Prestatyn car boot sale I see the concrete evidence of people’s lives chucked on the ground for bargain hunters to scavenge. It’s not just the everyday objects like furniture and cooking utensils but their hobbies and interests are laid bare (books, garden tools, photography equipment, knitting wools and embroidery items etc. etc. etc) and quite often treasured birthday and Christmas cards, family photographs, even letters and bank  statements. I’ve even seen photo albums containing locks of baby hair, all carefully saved by someone  who never dreamed where they would end up.

And the sight of these pathetic heaps brings home the realisation of the sheer mass of stuff with which we are cluttering our planet. While half the people in the world starve, the rest of us waste resources on stuff that mostly has no functional value whatsoever.

The other thing Bray’s book made me think about is the way artefacts are treasured as records of history. In The Museum of You Clover mistakenly catalogues items in her museum collection as belonging to her mother or having been bought for her by her mother because that is what she wants them to be. It’s a jog to the mind that our knowledge of the past is only an interpretation of relics, not a statement of facts.

History is perhaps, like our passion for possessions, a way of  making ourselves feel important, when it is arguable that our only significance is the danger we bring to the rest of the ecosystem in which we live.

 

When is a short story collection not a collection?

When is a group of short stories a collection? I have the honour of being on the shortlisting panel for the Edge Hill University Short Story Collection Prize which is given annually for a published single author short story collection. After several years I still haven’t come to terms with the question of whether a book of short stories should be bound together by something more than the cover: should there be some kind of joining thread or theme, other than the fact that they have all been written by the same person?

Collections by established writers often consist of a gathering up of various stories which have been published in magazines and anthologies, or which have won prizes. In some cases this leads to stories, which work perfectly well as stand alone pieces, becoming tediously repetitive when put together in a collection due to the author’s conscious or unconscious frequent use of similar settings or motifs.

I’m not talking here about the recurrent themes that run through every writer’s work. Such themes  and devices are expected and pleasurable factors which enable the reader to identify the writer’s voice but what pokes you in the eye with some collections is the overuse of settings and situations. For example, in one collection I read, 7 out of 10 stories were about  lesbian couples with a dog, living in virtually identical domestic settings. Published singly, this would not be noticed, perhaps even by the author him/herself but put them  all together and by the time you get halfway through the book, you are becoming bored with the lack of freshness, no matter how good the individual stories.

On the other hand, maybe themed collections too can be repetitive. It’s difficult to find fresh angles on a specific theme to give surprise and delight to the reader. Having to write a dozen stories on a single theme such as the sea, can also constrain the writer, with the result that such ‘commissioned’ stories may not be as good as their best work which comes from their own creative direction.

Sometimes short story collections are so tightly themed and interlinked that they might be read as novels so that further questions arise as to whether they should be considered collections at all.

Personally I used to feel that lumping together a lot of discrete stories doesn’t constitute a collection but I’m beginning to change my mind. It’s a different matter when the works of a dead author are collected together and I can see that it is helpful to the reader who admires a specific writer (dead or alive) to be able to access their work in one or two volumes rather than having to do extensive research to track single texts down. But I still have a love affair with theme; still feel that handled well, a themed collection makes so much more of a satisfying whole.

Day of Disaster

Last week’s novel writing went quite well, around 5000 words done, which is not a great deal but I had a lot of revision to do on the earlier stuff so overall I was pleased with the place I am at. After a weekend away I planned to get stuck in as my diary was pretty empty but it just didn’t work out like that. One example of a disastrous day – 7.00 am had to get up early to collect some items I’d bought in order to get back home in time to make an appointment with a friend who was coming to buy a copy of my book. Writing session planned for after this. 10.00 am Friend did not turn up on time so waited till 11.00am then picked up pen and paper. 11.30am, partner decides to give lawn long overdue haircut. 11.40am. Loud swearing and shouting from garden as lawnmower refuses to start disrupts creative thought process. 11.50am Partner succeeds in getting mower to start but is now in bad temper, running round garden with it effing and blinding. Decide to make lunch instead and start writing afterwards. 11.55am Friend arrives to buy book while partner and I are having screaming row about lawnmowers and failure to respect creativity. 12.00 midday, I am in middle of making friend cup of tea when partner slices three fingers in lawnmower blades. 12.10pm persuade partner to go to hospital and not stick fingers together with sellotape while mopping up blood from kitchen and putting burned lunch in bin. 12.15, usher traumatised friend out of house, put partner in car and drive to minor injuries unit, still venting rage at not getting my writing fix, I mean who on earth puts their fingers in the blades of a running lawnmower? 1.30pm return from hospital with well bandaged and steristripped partner, make lunch and repair to library to get some peace. 2.30pm Get involved in chatting to knit and natter group in library and extensive search for Bruce Chatwin’s ‘On a Black Hill’, which is eventually found in the cellar archive. 3.45pm Arrive home with pen still unused and find dog crossing its legs, waiting for long ramble. 5.00pm Collapse on couch for well earned cup of coffee. 6.00pm After having to perform various tasks for partner which his injured fingers will not allow him to do, spend an hour answering emails and trying to put a link to another site on my website, which my webcreator is determined not to do. 7pm. Make supper. 8pm Give up all thoughts of writing and spend the rest of the evening knitting a teacosy to calm shredded nerves. Partner is looking on teletext for a winter sun holiday. I’m seriously thinking of going alone, just me and my pen.

Inspiration from strange places

Well, I’ve been away for a couple of weeks, hence no posts. First week was in Pwlhelli. Had a lovely quiet week with lots of walks for me and the dog and managed to get quite a bit of writing done. Second week was a coach trip to the Cotswolds with some friends. Again got quite a bit of writing done in between sightseeing trips. The chapter I’m writing is from the detective protagonist’s point of view, but I really wanted to put in some sections from the VP  of the perpetrator but I couldn’t see how to do that without giving away her identity and I couldn’t get a clear idea of her voice. On our final day we went to Worcester, which is where I was brought up and the coach went past the house where I lived when I was very young, triggering lots of memories of my childhood

On Monday we had guest author Carys Bray at our writers’ group and Carys did a workshop with us based around our ideas of ‘home’. I started to write memories of my childhood, which had already been in my mind after the trip  to Worcester and then I had one of those lightbulb moments as I realised that I could use these for my perpetrator’s voice, giving clues about her childhood and personality without revealing too much about the her involvement in the crime.

On Tuesday I was at a local antiques centre, attending an auction. I had some time to spare waiting for a lot to come up that I wanted to bid on so I went to the cafe and started writing a section in the voice of the perpetrator using some of the memories that had surfaced in the workshop. After that I had a walk round the stalls and spotted a Dr Barnardo’s money box in the shape of a cottage dating roughly from the 1950s. I remembered there being one of these in my classroom at primary school and it triggered yet another memory of an incident I could include in my writing. The notion of ‘house’ figures strongly in my novel and it seemed almost fated that I should see this house and get this memory just when I needed it. It made me think how tenuous is the chain of ideas that leads to the pen and what arrives on the page and how things just seem to fall into your lap sometimes if you are open to receiving them. I’d been in a sort of Sargasso sea with this particular character and now suddenly it’s all systems go. Let’s hope it continues  this way.

A stop and go kind of week

Got stuck into that story I was writing last week, stuck being the operative word. Finished the first section and then completely blanked it, just didn’t know where it was going. Any kind of plan I made just seemed really wooden and cliched, so I left it alone for a bit and got on with the urgent business of pickling and jamming all the fruit and veg we have piling up from our allotment. And of course, while I was doing all this, the back brain was ticking away. When I did sit down to it, a new character came out to play and a lot of shadowy ideas came together. All the excitement came back and although I still haven’t clearly got the end, I know where I’m going. I want to get this story finished this week, because I hope to enter it for the Sunday Times Bank competition and I think the deadline’s before the end of the month. Shan’t have much time later on as I’ll be in the Isle of Man and want to concentrate on the novel then, which is still on hold while I’m tied up with this story. I’ve also had a session on the Skem history, the chapter’s coming on well so hope I can keep up the momentum even though all that fruit and veg is still piling up in the kitchen, I envy people who can just devote all their time to writing their current project. I have course plans to make for my creative writing sessions, although I don’t work full time any more, I never seem to have enough time and I read in writing magazines about authors who stay in the house for six months and do nothing else but write their latest book, and other authors (usually male) whose partners take the kids away for a few weeks,or provide them with endless peace and quiet and regular meals while they complete their novel. Maybe my family would do this for me if I started earning megabucks.

In the odd spare moment I have (and they are very odd) I am reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I’m finding it a bit hard to get into but everyone keeps telling me how good it is, so I will persevere. I do like the writing but finding it difficult to get a grasp  of the characters, but I’m only at the beginning. I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett, something I would probably never have read if someone in our writer’s group hadn’t recommended it. I enjoyed this very much, loved the humour in it, the sense of time and place. Okay so it’s a white woman writing black women’s stories but it was clearly and consistently written and cast light on a period that’s not so often written about, reminding us how recent these attitudes were, even how diluted forms of them linger today.

Going to be teaching a new creative writing course at Chapel Gallery Ormskirk, starting in October, if you’re interested have a look at the details at http//:www.chapelgallery.org or on my website http//:www.carolfenlon.com