W1A

Anyone in Britain will know that postcode as well as they know their own, for it is that of the Beeb, our beloved Auntie, allowing nation to speak peace unto nation and still producing some of the best TV around and all of it sans adverts. W1A dates from a few years back, though series 3 is more recent, and stars Hugh Bonneville as Ian Fletcher, former head of Olympic Deliverance (in ‘2012’) along with Jason Watkins, Nina Sosanya and Sarah Parrish.

It took me a while to get the full flavour of what is really going on here. Not being well-schooled in office politics it didn’t immediately strike me that Ian is being set up to fail by his colleague Simon (‘Head of Strategic Governance’) who has – or claims to have – the ear of the BBC chairman and who constantly passes off the crap jobs (‘I don’t know how these things work and you’ll know how you want to deal with this…’) whilst swooping in to claim responsibility for all the good ideas emanating from Ian’s environs. But Ian’s soon onto Simon and does some pre-empting of his own, getting hold of strategic plans and coming in early to beard Tony in his den and pass them off as his own which in this case they actually are. The frozen smile on Simon’s face when this comes out is exquisite.

W1A is full of such moments, too full to list them all but it rapidly becomes clear that Ian is no fool and always seems to pull something out of the hat at the last minute. Hurrah. The dynamic in his team is paralleled by the sub-plots of Izzie Gould and Lucy Freeman (the only other competent workers in the BBC) who in turn are plagued by slimy opportunist Jack Patterson, office idiot Will Humphries and the utterly unbearable and totally Machiavellian David Wilkes, while Siobhan Sharp (Jessica Hynes) makes everyone’s life a misery without even trying. The voice-over (David Tennant) is a joy in itself. So go watch the BBC having fun on itself with itself. Yes no, very good, very strong.

Hurrah.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b05s9g2q/w1a

Kirk out

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Once Bitten Twice Sigh: Dealing with Rejection

I’m taking a leaf out of Beetleypete’s book and reblogging a few golden oldies as it’s holiday time and I’m basically Not At My Desk Very Much.  Here’s one from a while back.

*Sigh*.  Another day, another rejection – this time in the form of a competition shortlist which unaccountably did not have my name on it.  It’s very hard to keep going during these times: you feel a blow to the stomach like a sucker-punch which takes all the air out of your lungs.  You start to feel a bit sick: then the inevitable thoughts come in.  Why did I think that story was any good?  Of course they didn’t choose it!  What makes you think you’ll make a writer?  And so on.  But along with that there’s a stony stubbornness which won’t let me stop: and that’s a good thing – but right now it doesn’t feel good.  Right now that stubbornness feels like your doom.  It seems there’s no escape from your own nature – or fate, or whatever it is – and you start to feel like Sisyphus, condemned to push a rock up a mountain only to see it roll to the bottom.  Every time.

Maybe I should write a story about that….

Because yes, in the end that is the only response; to turn your experiences into art.  And thankfully nowadays the sucker-punch doesn’t last too long: I bounce back from it relatively quickly.  But it’s very hard to find a place in a world which doesn’t seem to have any time for your work.  My problem with stories is, I think, that they don’t have a strong plot.  I’m not good with strong plots: my strengths lie in ideas and characters; moments in a life.  Although I have had some success with surreal plots, such as Mem Mat, the one about the memory mattress which stores your actual memories.  I have also – as is only fair – had some success with writing about trans issues: first with the Mslexia blog and before that, a story called DIVORK where a woman thinks her husband is having an affair because of a lip-print on a glass, only to discover that the lipstick is his.

As far as poetry goes I think my problem is that I write a lot of rhyming verse and there seems to be a mindset that serious poets write free verse.  Hence I’ve had more success with comic verse.  Interestingly this mirrors the process when I began to write: unable at first to take myself seriously as a poet, I started with parodies and comic rhymes, assuming like everyone else that the serious poet did not rhyme (or only sporadically) and that therefore I was not a Serious Poet.  It took a long while for me to be persuaded otherwise – and now it seems to be taking a long while for publishers to be persuaded, too.

*Sigh!*

So here’s the rub: do you carry on doing what you do even though no-one seems to like it, or do you try to alter what you do to fit in?

Answers below please…

Kirk out

It’s Finished! So Now it Begins…

You know how computer programmers say the first 95% takes 95% of the time? And the last 5% also takes 95% of the time? I can so relate to that because that’s exactly how a novel is; the first draft takes 95% of the time – then the rewrites also take 95% of the time. Even so, I have a huge sense of achievement in being able to say that I have finished!!! the first draft of my novel Tapestry (working title) whose chapters are based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bb/Bayeux_Tapestry_scene57_Harold_death.jpg/1200px-Bayeux_Tapestry_scene57_Harold_death.jpg
image removed on request

The idea came from hearing that the Bayeux Tapestry (see above) was about to come to Britain. Around the same time someone lent me a book from a Grayson Perry exhibition, also of tapestries – and the two came together. I don’t know where the Fibonacci idea came in but it just seemed to work on so many levels. So there we are, and 84,000 words later (gulp!) the first draft is done.

The first chapters came easily, being only a thousand words each. After that it got more complicated and when I reached Chapter 21 (21,000 words) I began to set myself a daily word challenge. I would write 700 words a day and then stop. If I was still in the flow after 700 words, that was all to the good, I could pick it up again the next day – if not, it didn’t matter. It was amazing how the sense of slow and steady progress built, week after week; finishing Chapter 21 and starting on the dauntingly lengthy Chapter 34 (34,000 words) but I got there. You’ll be pleased to know that Chapter 55 is deliberately unfinished as the narrator dies (I think a 55,000-word chapter is asking too much of any reader – I’m not Proust.)

So there we have it. This week I shall be mostly… getting stuff ready to send to publishers and winding down ready for August, a month of No Work.

Kirk out

Enabler or Gatekeeper? Choosing a Good Writing Course

Sometimes it seems that people who run writing courses are more like bouncers than ushers, taking your money and keeping you out of the club whilst claiming to ‘show you the way in’*. Some courses seem to promise much but leave you with little more than an overwhelming impression of how hard it all is.

(*this reminds me of an idea I once had. I used to suffer a lot from spam emails so I devised a special place in hell for spammers where every day someone comes along claiming to show them the way out of hell. They are compelled to believe these people but every one of them is a scammer.)

I don’t entirely blame them; it’s hard to make money from writing alone and you gotta do something. On the other hand if all you’re doing is taking people’s money and telling them how impossible it is to get where you are, that’s called ‘pulling the ladder up behind you’ and you’re doing them a disservice.

I do run the odd poetry workshop in which I try to help people release their creativity; however I don’t offer workshops oriented at success. This is for two reasons – 1, not having been ‘successful’ to any great degree myself, why would anyone take me seriously? and 2, it’s not what I’m good at (see point 1). What I’d like to do is offer more workshops on releasing and exploring creativity. But do people want that? I have a horrible suspicion that I’d give them my best stuff and then a voice would pipe up saying plaintively ‘this is all very well, but can you tell us how to get published?’ Such is the society we live in.

So here’s my advice when choosing writing courses:

1.Look for as many free courses as you can find. Free doesn’t necessarily mean worthless and you may pick up some valuable stuff as well as making contacts.

2. If you’re being asked to shell out money, check out the profile of the person organising it. If they’re offering a route to success but haven’t achieved much themselves, does that add up?

3. Does the course seem to offer a lot? Might it be offering too much? Check out user reviews from previous courses.

4. Is this what you really need right now? Call me arrogant but in terms of finding my voice I’ve always thought I was my own best teacher. There’s no substitute for reading as widely as possible and just writing as much as you can. No amount of courses can compensate for the lack of a writing habit. Equally, if you’re not at the publishing stage yet you don’t need a course on how to get an agent.

If you’re unsure what’s out there I recommend signing up to writers’ groups and websites. The Insecure Writers Support Group has a presence on Facebook and Writers Write gives daily writing prompts as well as running courses. You can also subscribe to the email lists of publishers and magazines without having to buy anything (I subscribe to the newsletters of Room magazine, the Royal Society of Literature – which produces the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – and other local literary fora.) These will tell you of upcoming competitions and submission opportunities. And if you’re a woman there’s no better magazine to subscribe to than Mslexia: as well as offering opportunities within the magazine there are comprehensive listings in the back. I’m also subscribed to Granta magazine, if it ever arrives…but that’s more for reading than submitting to.

It’s amazing what you can get for free, but whatever course you go on there’s no substitute for a good writing habit.

Now, apropos of which, here’s my upcoming course on ‘Developing a Good Writing Habit.’

LOL. Though actually I could totally do that…

Kirk out

Gran

I’m in a phase of winding down for the summer now and I may not be posting much; however I shall try to find some golden oldies to reblog in my absence, re-release a few of my greatest hits, so to speak. This summer is going to be different from usual in that I have a friend who will be moving house and needing help – but the big news is… drum roll… yes, I am shortly going to be a Grandmother!!!

I haven’t mentioned this before for reasons which are probably rooted in superstition – a reluctance to tempt fate by breaking the news too early – but now it can be revealed: Holly is eight months pregnant and due to give birth at the beginning of August. She asked me what I wanted to be called and I didn’t even have to think about it – of all the grandmotherly titles the coolest has to be Gran. Incidentally, do you remember this Gran? I’d quite like to be her as well…

It makes you rethink everything, being a grandparent. My main feeling for months was one of panic: ‘help! I’m not ready to be a grandmother!’ For weeks OH and I looked at each other thinking ‘Grandparents? Us?’ much as we did when I was expecting Holly when we found a brilliant cartoon with two adults looking at each other in bewilderment saying ‘Parents? Us?’ (It was in this book.) But a new baby changes all the relationships in a family. You find yourself examining how you brought up the children, wondering if you did a good enough job and how differently your children will raise their offspring. You find yourself searching for paddling pools and books and toys, you catch yourself resurrecting forgotten stories and nursery rhymes (how does The Hungry Caterpillar go again?)

So August could be very busy; we’ll have to see how things pan out.

Kirk out

Pl*n is a Four-Letter Word

Other writers do things properly. Other writers plan; in fact more than one writer has put in their guidelines ‘plan, plan and plan again.’ I don’t even plan once. Sure, I throw a few random ideas into a notebook; perhaps a few diagrams, maybe even a paragraph or two. A tablespoon of characters, maybe a slew of dominant colours – but that’s all. If I were to plan a novel so that I knew what was going to be in each chapter I’d be so bored by the end of it that I’d lose all interest in writing the damned thing. A novel has to come as a surprise to me otherwise I can’t be bothered.

None of this means I don’t have a broad outline or an overarching idea. All of my novels have begun with a concept: a woman trapped in a nuclear bunker (Seven Days) gender dysphoria (The Trans Woman’s Wife) or the one I’m working on now which is based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.

I have an idea about writing, taken from Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife (or it might be The Amber Spyglass). There’s a knife which cuts between worlds and someone tells Will, the knife-bearer, ‘when you cut you have intentions. But the knife has intentions too.’ And I think writing’s like that: you start out with intentions (this poem is about…) but the poem has intentions too – and if you are wise you’ll follow those.

‘Following the Intentions of the Novel’ – that sounds like a good title for a writing course, doesn’t it? And here, just for fun, is a quote on writing:

(from Writers write – image removed on request)

Kirk out

Last Night I Dreamed I Went to Gilead Again…

OH and I have been catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale (series 3), that dystopian Biblical Black Mirror where patriarchy reasserts itself viciously and mercilessly, forcing women to assume one of three roles: wife, servant (‘Martha’) or handmaid. The crisis which spawns this is a critical fall in fertility rates and the grotesque solution is to bring a ‘handmaid’ – a fertile woman – into each family to breed for them. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of one such woman, June (known as Offred and then Ofjoseph as they take the names of their owners) forced to reproduce for Commander Waterford and his family. This is brutal slavery with a Biblical varnish and unsurprisingly the thoughts of many, if not most, women turn to escape. Canada is just across the border.

No matter how plausible, The Handmaid’s Tale is of course fiction. Or so I thought… but it turns out Gilead is alive and thriving in a tiny corner of the US. I kind of wish I hadn’t come across The Transformed Wife’s blog but I did, and its vision of ‘Biblical Womanhood’ is basically Gilead minus the rape and violence. St Paul looms large in this scenario (whenever I go to a church which emphasises St Paul I run for cover) and is little more than unreconstructed dogma. This woman is not only against abortion – which is to be expected – but also against contraception. God is in charge of your womb apparently; no matter that the planet can’t afford more people, nor that there aren’t the resources to go around, you must keep having as many children as you can conceive. But don’t worry about the planet – I expect God has all that in hand too.*

The concept that God equals the patriarchal vision set out in the Bible is one feminists (and Quakers) have spent generations countering but here it is again. It reminds me of bindweed; no matter how many times you root it out, back it comes again. Ah well.

I will say one thing for the Transformed Wife though – unlike many people on the internet, she knows how to debate respectfully.

Kirk out

*as it happens I agree; I just think the plan might involve the extinction of our race (if we don’t reform). People’s notions of God are much to anthropocentric in my view.