This Time Last Year

Del Boy’s dreams (in ‘Only Fools and Horses’) always used to end with him saying confidently, ‘this time next year we’ll be millionaires.’ Well I can’t look at my blog post for this time next year but I can look back to last year and see where I was at. And lo! I was here: https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/can-i-be-novel/

Just goes to show what a difference a year makes.

Still no baby – but then again it’s not due for five days.

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

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

You Know You’re Stuck When…

I wish I hadn’t put ‘…a Little Bit Rock’n’Roll’ in the title of the last post because every time I read it I think of this song. Anodyne and sickly as the Osmonds were, there’s nothing worse than them also pretending to be rock’n’roll. Which means I have to write another post, and that’s hard because I’m in a fallow phase. You know your brain’s getting stuck when you get a song going round inside it; in the last few days I’ve had the Gentleman Jack theme song followed by this one, which I don’t even like. In my experience when the mind goes round like a record on repeat it’s trying to make sense of something and the best thing is to leave it alone. Get on with something else. So that is what I shall do.

As far as work goes I’ve finished Chapter 34 of the Tapestry novel. Chapter 34 is the ninth chapter and will be followed by the tenth, Chapter 55 which in theory should be 55,000 words long but won’t be (if you’re confused, imagine how I feel.) Not wishing to try the patience of the reader the final chapter will be fragmented just as our world is fragmented, with pieces tailing off, unravelling, lost…

The novel aims to be a portrait of modern Britain centring on Brexit. It’s a book of voices, everyone giving their own account of themselves, their thoughts and experiences. From the Queen to a homeless man, from a refugee to Tommy Robinson and including some famous ghosts, these voices make up the Tapestry of Britain today.

And that’s me up to date. Today I shall be mostly… tinkering with things, going for coffee and catching up with the weeds which are always one step ahead…

Kirk out

Shall I Part My Hair Behind? Do I Dare to Plant a Tree?

My blogging prompt for yesterday suggests writing a post about trees but instead I went shopping and got my hair done. Now if you’re new to this blog you might get the impression from reading this that I’m the literary equivalent of Rachel in Friends, not getting around to Jane Eyre but reading Vogue instead. The thing is, there are some days when despite your best intentions you can get all your books out and sit there staring at the computer and it Just Isn’t Happening. And on those days when a card arrives in the post with some birthday money inside there’s only one thing to do and, reader, I did it. I went and bought me a new outfit and got my hair done. I have to say I’m very pleased with the hair cut and clothes and intend to estrenar both tomorrow at the Labour Party ceilidh.

Estrenar is a very useful Spanish verb for which there is no equivalent in English. But there should be because we need it; it means ‘to use or try out something for the first time.’ I coined a similar verb as a child, to pervise, however this is very specific to a jar of Marmite (or something with a similarly smooth surface) and it means to broach that surface for the first time. So I think we should all adopt estrenar into our language – as indeed OH and I do.

Now I know that you’re all champing at the bit wanting selfies but in my experience a photo never does justice to the splendiferous reality so I’m going to paint you a word-picture. There’s a lot of rust around at the moment in clothes shops (maybe it’s all the rain) and I eventually persuaded myself to try on a pair of rust-coloured trousers. They were stylish and comfortable so I took a chance and bought them, along with a couple of mix-and-match tops. I’d also taken a chance on a new hairdresser’s in town (Loughborough seems to have more hairdressers than any town has a right to; I don’t know why and my stylist couldn’t shed any light either) as I’d chickened out of unisex one Daniel uses because it was full of teenage lads. Sad, I know… anyway she did a brilliant job and took about six inches and ten years off me.

Today it’s back to the laptop face though. And I haven’t said one word about trees… ah well, maybe tomorrow. Or not, as it’s my actual birthday then and I have lots of stuff planned.

Kirk out