Up to Here

I’ve been thinking about a post on Remembrance Sunday which this year fell with almost supernatural precision exactly on Armistice day, one hundred years after the ending of the First World War.  I sat in Quaker Meeting while outside people processed, banged drums, shouted orders, prayed and stood in respectful silence.  And I wanted to try to disentangle all the complex feelings I had about it but they proved too matted to be unravelled so I’m leaving it for another time (I did get up in Meeting and speak about Conscientious Objectors though.)

So in the meantime, where am I up to?  A rather fractured night’s sleep led to a morning assailed by a welter of ideas (a bit like being inside a meteor shower) all supplemented by the arrival of the first of my daily writing prompts.   Inspired by my son doing Inktober and producing a drawing every day (today’s is fabulous) I signed up for Writers Write Daily Prompts and my first suggestion was ‘Looking at Life Through Rose-Tinted Spectacles.’  I decided to write a hundred words; this centenary may or may not turn into something else but if not it doesn’t matter as the main point is to get the suggestive juices going (see what I did there?)

Apart from that I do my usual vocal exercises and trawl through my poems reciting them out loud to an imaginary audience.  I do this most mornings and it’s very useful; not only can I perform any poem at the drop of a hat but with the newer poems reading them aloud shows up any flaws in the writing.  (I do this with stories too; it’s amazing how you can type type the same word twice and not notice until you come to read aloud*.)

Mornings are usually dedicated to poetry but after doing my hundred words on the writing prompt I decided to polish up another hundred words I’m doing for Mslexia (this time the prompt is a photograph) then some ideas came for the novel and I wrote those up, so it’s been a bit of a mixed morning.

This afternoon I plan to tackle a totally new project.  The BBC’s Writersroom window is coming up in a couple of months and I intend to embark on a radio play.  It’s a horrendously tall order to write a radio play in two months but I work quite well in short bursts so we’ll see.  In any case a lot of the material is already to hand albeit in the form of short dialogues and stories.

Here’s Daniel’s picture:

Kirk out

* see what I did there?

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Living My Best Life

I was inspired after reading Hadley Freeman in the Guardian to share with you, my voracious readers, a day in my life.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/10/four-hours-sleep-yoga-dawn-todays-influencers-best-lives

I do not wake; I am woken, usually before 7 am by an overenthusiastic spouse who always thinks that unlocking the front door and making a pot of tea takes half an hour instead of five minutes.  That’s on a good day.  On a bad day (most days are bad days) I wake at between four-thirty and six-thirty; sometimes I go back to sleep and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I think I don’t sleep but I do – so OH tells me, anyway.  If I’m awake around six-thirty I’ll sit up and meditate for ten or fifteen minutes while OH does the business; then begins our shared morning time.  I check emails and Facebook, we tut and sigh over the news; I read my daily inspirational readings:

https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/

and begin the Guardian crossword.  Around ten to eight after Thought for the Day I nip to the bathroom: if I leave it too late I will lose my yoga window downstairs (I aim for half an hour of yoga and usually miss.)  Breakfast is either boiled egg and soldiers or muesli or toast and jam (are you still reading?  Not asleep yet?) which I take upstairs and eat while finishing the crossword.

After that it’s writing: usually poetry in the mornings and prose in the afternoons.  After lunch is often a dead time so I’ll do something else for a while; go for a walk, do some washing, dig the garden; read.  Then it’s prose all the way to dinner-time around six (usually some combination of veg and carbs) followed by my treat of the day, chocolate biscuits dunked in roibos.  Evenings are usually slumped in front of the iplayer unless I have a meeting or social event: last night it was the folk club (this featured songs from the First World War and was excellent.)

As I don’t sleep enough I’m usually tired by 9.30 and in bed by ten.  And that’s my rock-n-roll life.

Inspirational, ain’t it?

Kirk out

How to Deal With Rejections

It occurs to me, following the success of my ‘Top Tips for Blogging’ post a while back:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/my-seven-tips-for-better-blogging/

that I should do a ‘top tips on surviving rejections’ post.  After all, I’ve had my fair share of them and although unlike writers in the past I can’t paper my room with rejection slips because they come by email, I can as it were paper this blog with advice about how to deal with them.

So here are my top tips on surviving rejection.

  1.  It happens to everyone.  If you’re feeling down, look at this sample of rejections received by successful and established writers and remember that rejection is not necessarily a judgement on your writing, merely on its suitability for the outlet to which you submitted it – or, if you want to be pedantic, on that person’s opinion of its suitability (look at this link to 17 famous authors and their rejections: http://mentalfloss.com/article/91169/16-famous-authors-and-their-rejections)                                                                                                                                     
  2. It hurts.  There’s no way round this that I know of: you’re going to feel bad for a day or two, maybe longer; so use your support networks.  Tell family and friends, share with online writing groups.  If you haven’t joined any there are loads out there and my favourite is the Insecure Writers’ Support Group (ISWG) on Facebook, who are very supportive and encouraging.                                                         
  3. Do something to make yourself feel better.  Write (but don’t send!) an angry or humorous email to the editor who rejected you, as I did in yesterday’s post.  If you really want to, send the rejected item somewhere else – but I recommend letting it lie for a while and in the meantime doing something restful and enjoyable.  Go for a walk, watch a film, read something amusing or absorbing that is quite different from your own work (so you don’t compare) and realise that you will feel shitty for a while.                                                                                                 
  4. Don’t allow the negative thoughts and/or feedback to define you.  I had a comment a while back on my poetry which really rocked me on my heels.  I thought about it for a while – then I decided that they were wrong.  But even if they were right it doesn’t mean that I have no talent or that I should give up.  After all a rejection is just one person’s opinion.                                                                                                 
  5. When you’re feeling better, pick up your pen/tablet/laptop again and keep going.  There’s only one sure way to fail and that is to give up.  So don’t give up!

I’d like to hear your top tips too – please add them in the comments

Kirk out

Another Day, Another Dolour

Oh a writer’s lot is not a happy one.  You give it your best shot, you grab your lightbulb moments and painstakingly put them together into a work; you hone and refine, you draft and redraft and finally you send your stories out into the world to seek their fortune and what happens?  Pretty smartly you get an email where the words ‘thanks’ and ‘unfortunately’ stand in unreasonably close proximity to each other and at the end of it all you’re no nearer knowing what went wrong because most editors can’t or won’t give feedback and as to what they are actually looking for, the best response you get is ‘study the magazine.’  Well, dear editor, I would if I could: in fact I’m frequently tempted to draft a form letter so that I can reply thus:

Dear Magazine Editor,

Thank you for your rejection of my story/poem/flash fiction.  I understand that in spite of having no guidelines whatsoever (bar length and formatting of manuscript), my submission does not meet your mysterious and cryptic requirements.  With regard to this, thank you for your suggestion that I study the magazine.  Unfortunately due to limited space in my bank account I am only able to study a tiny fraction of the magazines suggested to me and I’m afraid that on this occasion yours did not meet my criteria for inclusion.  I wish you all the best in finding readers.

Yours etc

It really is a dispiriting and painful experience; one which leaves you with pain instead of cash (dolour instead of dollars).  Plus, I can never decide whether it’s better to get rejections quickly or slowly: on the one hand I didn’t have to wait too long for this but on the other hand a rejection at lightning speed feels somehow a lot worse than one which takes weeks or months; at least in the latter case you can convince yourself that they really thought about it.  You can imagine, if you will, ditherings; editorial disputes, wranglings over your manuscript taking place at the highest level.  But to receive a ‘no thanks’ by return of post does not allow any such illusions to flourish.  Plus if a rejection takes two or three months you can easily be on to other projects by then and not care so much as you do about something hot off the press.

Then again, if it’s a quick rejection you can whip it off somewhere else pronto rather than waiting.  So perhaps I should do that.

Kirk out

A Sort of Report-Thingy

Right, my dears, I’m recovered from conference now and have spent the last few days preparing my novella Seven Days for a competition.  It’s the first thing I ever wrote so if it wins it’ll be appropriate for it to be the first major thing that gets published.

So, Labour conference.  What can I say?  It was absolutely fan-bloody-tastic.  Amazing.  Wonderful.  United, uplifting, powerful.  Let me elucidate.

The first day wasn’t so good.  I started off tired and got tireder as after a very pleasant and productive women’s conference we went back to our hotel room.  The hotel in itself was a terrific surprise: first opened in 1914 it is vast and sumptuous with huge rooms decorated in splendid style.  It oozes faded grandeur and is the perfect antidote to antiseptic, anonymous, have-a-nice-day boxes that you usually get.  I don’t want to have a nice day, thank you very much.  When I do I’ll let you know.  Anyway, this was our hotel room:

IMG_0693[1]

and here’s the hotel website (apparently it was the subject of a TV documentary last year):
https://www.britanniahotels.com/hotels/the-adelphi-hotel-liverpool

The first night I only got four hours’ sleep as not only was I totally wired but the city was unbelievably noisy!  The hotel is slap-bang in the centre of Liverpool and the aftermath of a football match conspired with karaoke bars and general merriment to create a racket which went on till about 4 am.  After that the sirens and street cleaners started up, so I lay awake until about 6.30 when I dozed for about 5 minutes before having to get up.  So the day wasn’t brilliant, but we got through it and arrived at an understanding of what was needed in order to follow the debates and vote as delegates.  It was good having two of us there as we could bounce ideas off and support each other.

On that first day I saw Eddie Izzard (sans make-up and in a suit) and Ed Milliband.  There were debates on the Women’s Conference motion (‘Women and the Economy’) and a ‘democracy review’ which involved some rule changes.  My main worry, apart from getting my head around everything, was that there would be major dissent or even acrimony – but apart from a moment at the beginning when someone moved that we reject the Conference Arrangements Committee report (which would have meant disrupting the whole day’s business) there was a remarkable spirit of unity.  This did not mean unanimity but a willingness to work together and a sense that issues are too important to argue about minor things.  This spirit of unity pervaded the whole conference and I have to say I was proud of us: the Tories can do conformity but they rarely manage genuine unity.

A tremendous amount of work goes into organising a democratic conference as decisions taken on one day have to be incorporated into the next day’s business and compositing meetings and the Conference arrangements committee were up until midnight each day producing reports for the next morning.  I salute their efforts.

There’s so much to say about the rest that I think I’ll leave it for another post, but I came away with the impression that an awful lot of work has been done in a whole spread of policy areas.  Policies are not just a wish-list; they are solidly worked-out and based on wide consultations with a huge variety of people and groups.  Again, there is much I could say on this and I’ll perhaps come back to it.  I wanted to speak at conference but it was difficult to be chosen (the one beef I had was that the system for choosing speakers from the floor was inadequate) and if chosen I wanted to say that never before have I felt that my values as a Quaker so overlapped those of the political party I support.

The one issue which threatened to cast a pall over proceedings was that of anti-semitism.  It did come up but I’m happy to say it didn’t disrupt anything (apart from a hoax bomb call which scuppered a play and a couple of fringe meetings.)

There were attempts going on to cast Corbyn as anti-semitic but he lanced the boil in his speech by saying this:

There were also these orthodox Jews outside the conference:

Image result for Orthodox Jews outside Labour conference

image removed on request

If anyone still questions the extent of the problem, I would refer you to this recent research:

which is cited in a letter to the Guardian signed by a large number of distinguished academics:

https://bit.ly/2NTSokh

There were speeches from many members of the shadow cabinet including Emily Thornberry, John McDonald, Angela Raynor, Jon Ashworth and Kier Starmer.  We now have a range of policies across the board which all stem from a simple philosophy: of valuing people, investing in communities and taxing the rich (especially global companies like Amazon) to pay for it.  But of course Corbyn’s speech was the highlight of the conference and he didn’t disappoint: in fact I can’t think of a single thing he said that I disliked or a single thing he omitted to say that I’d have liked to hear:

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/read-jeremy-corbyn-speech-full-13311639

I arrived at conference wondering if we were ready for government.  I left knowing we are. 

Kirk out

Nine Out of Seven Makes Me Mostly Harmless

As the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted, yesterday’s post was rather like Douglas Adam’s ‘Mostly Harmless: the Fifth Volume in the Increasingly Inaccurately-Titled Hitch-Hiker’s Trilogy:

https://www.abebooks.co.uk/HARMLESS-Fifth-Book-Increasingly-Inaccurately-Named/554906278/bd

Why?  Because I said it had seven tips when in fact it had nine.  Once I’d published it I kept thinking of more things to put in and having edited it about nine times I couldn’t be bothered changing the title and decided anyway it was more fun to have a title at odds with the content, thus violating one of my own top tips.  It’s always more fun to break your own rules… but who knew I could say so much about blogging?  I always tend to undervalue my own knowledge and expertise because it doesn’t seem very Thingish: by which I mean it’s Not Very Technical or Definite; it doesn’t have Rules or Widgets or Boxes to Tick.  And we live in a society that values Boxes and things which are Thingish.  But once I started writing I found I actually had a great deal of knowledge and expertise to pass on and others seemed to find it useful too, which is Highly Gratifying – and in accordance with Tip No. 1 – Be Yourself.

Of course that easy-sounding phrase is anything but: in order to be yourself you must first find out what that is; and it may be that people you love or want to impress don’t actually like it very much.  There’s always risk involved in doing anything public: many people have commented to me over the years that they wish they could write a blog but they’re afraid of what people will say.  I, too, know that fear: I used to look at the comments with dread in case someone was being rude or abusive – and sometimes they were.  But you learn how to deal with this stuff (oh no, I feel some more tips coming on) just as we all do on social media.  Nope, there’s no avoiding them – here come some more tips:

Tip 1:  Criticism Hurts

Yes.  It hurts.  I don’t believe there is a writer alive (or dead) who has not experienced the pain of adverse criticism.  Some deal with it by getting angry, others by hiding away until the hurt has passed, a few by taking revenge.  I don’t have a short-cut to pain-free criticism I’m afraid, except to say that it does get better.  Try not to react immediately: give yourself some space; talk to family and friends, eat some chocolate.  Remind yourself of how many great writers were criticised and rejected in their time and the pain will pass.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/91169/16-famous-authors-and-their-rejections

Tip 2:  Get Some Distance

A series of devastatingly cutting responses will go through your mind, each cleverer than the last.  Resist.  Everyone can detect the taste of sour grapes, no matter how eloquently expressed, and you diminish your own power by indulging in them.  First, try to get some distance; then try to judge the comment on its merits.  Does the writer have a point?  Is there anything (however unpalatable) you can learn from this?  Are they – though it might kill you to say so – right?

Tip 3:  Right or Wrong, Make it Work for You

Whether the comment has a point or is total garbage, make it work for you.  Live well is the best revenge, so says the proverb; so if they have a point, take it and improve your work.  If they don’t have a point, let their sheer wrongness spur you on to better things.  Activate your inner stroppiness: don’t let anyone push you off course.

Tip 4:  Don’t Give Up

The only consistent piece of advice I’ve received in all my years of writing is, ‘Don’t give up.’  Keep going; persist; keep writing.  However regular your practice, stick with it and don’t let anyone stop you.  If someone says you’ll never make it, take that word ‘never’ as a red rag to a bull and think what the hell do they know?  Don’t engage in argument: it’s a waste of energy.  Just get back to your desk and carry on.

Tip 5:  What If I’m Not a Writer?

No-one can tell you what you are; that’s true, but it’s even truer that no-one can tell you what you are not.  Only you can discover that – and if in the course of writing, you discover that this is not really who you are, so what?  I’ve tried a hundred things and discovered they’re not who I am; and in the process you’ve found something out about yourself and that’s valuable.  Finding out who you aren’t is a step on the road to finding out who you are.  Which leads me to my final tip…

Tip 6:  Be Yourself.

I think we touched on this one already…

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

Nominative Determinism, Psycho-Geography (Again) and a Poet Discovered

I have discovered a poet.  She was a Victorian, her name was Joanna Baillie and I had never heard of her; obviously a great omission as her work has a toughness generally absent from female poets of her time, with the exception of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  I shall say more when I know her better.

But Joanna Baillie was clearly not an example of nominative determinism: I don’t know where the name Baillie originates from (it may be a cognate of bailiff or something similar, perhaps I’ll look it up*) but Joanna Bard might be more appropriate, especially since as a playwright she was compared in her time to Shakespeare.  Nominative determinism crops up far more than you’d think:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism

How often have you come across someone whose name quite inexplicably describes their job?  Like, say, Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the flushing toilet; or, to give a more recent example, Usain Bolt, until recently the fastest runner in the world?  How does this happen?

Historically it’s easy to see how, given that surnames were likely to indicate a person’s occupation; so, for example, you may be genetically predisposed to become a baker, a butcher or a chandler because, if that’s your name it means that somewhere in history, that’s what your family did.  (I’m not sure what to make of mine, incidentally, since we don’t seem to have a predisposition to go grey early in my family.)  Another explanation is that we may be drawn to occupations which reflect our name through a sort of unconscious egoism, as suggested here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2018/may/02/nominative-determinism-who-has-the-best-name-in-running

What examples of nominative determinism have you found?  I’m sure there are some corkers out there.

And back to psycho-geography which, as I’m sure you recall, is the way in which the landscape can reflect an inner state.  This is evident in works such as Wuthering Heights (incidentally how many people have the name Bronte?) and much of Dickens’ urban landscapes reflect the turmoil and oppression of his characters’ lives.  It is also in Joyce’s Dublin, Rankin’s Edinburgh and, if you want to see it that way, Dante’s Inferno.  Which brings us neatly back to spirals and to the novel I have once more picked up, determined to finish it by the end of November.  Of course by ‘finish’ I mean ‘complete a first draft’ – which will of course be rough, incomplete and awful.  But as I was decorating it occurred to me that writing is like painting a wall.  First you clean and prepare; then you put the first coat on.  You stand back.  God, that’s awful, you think.  What a mess.  And it’s true – the old paint shows through, the edges are rough and you can’t believe it’ll ever look like it did in your mind.  But you persevere because you realise that this is just the first coat – and once the edges are neatened with a fine brush and more coats have been applied and everything cleaned up, it’ll look much better.  Of course writing is not that simple: would that it were! (that phrase always reminds me of Robert Robinson.  Not a case of nominative determinism).  With writing you have to apply several coats and very often change colour half way through and start again, not to mention sanding down in between.  It’s a hell of a thing.  Incidentally I can’t think of any writers with nominative determinism – can you?

Kirk out

*It’s Scottish and means a kind of steward or sheriff, so I guess it’s not dissimilar