Category Archives: novels and longer works

The Selfish Genius

I’m becoming obsessed by this theme right now.  I wake in the early dawn and try to figure it out: what is the best way to live if you have an all-consuming talent?  I am not content with the traditional models of ‘selfish genius’ which dictate that in order to follow your inner voice you have to ignore everything – and more crucially everyone – else.  This is what male writers have traditionally done; and recently women are going there too: there’s a whole plethora of articles exhorting women writers to be selfish, to put themselves first, to ignore the children and carve out writing time.

Now, this needs a little deconstruction in the context of households where women have traditionally put themselves last.  We were conditioned to ignore our own needs, or at best put them on the back burner.  When everyone else’s needs have been satisfied, then it’s your turn.  Trouble is, that turn never arrives; you catch your breath for a moment  before realising, like poor old Barbara in The Royle Family, that having cooked, served and eaten Christmas dinner you are now faced with a kitchen full of washing-up.  I have to admit when I watched this episode I had an overwhelming urge to kick Jim out of his chair and into some good quality rubber gloves (sorry a bit of Withnail got in there by mistake)  (oh no, another bit!)

Deep breath.  So, in that context yes, it is entirely in order that Barbara should boot Jim into the kitchen to do his bit while she goes upstairs to write something sensational.  However it’s not only in the carving out of time that the selfish genius rears its head.  Write what you know is the advice – and it’s good advice – the trouble is that you also end up writing who you know.  Literary history is littered with friends of the writer who have recognised themselves in print and decided that since the passages can’t be deleted, they’ll delete the friendship instead.  This is not to mention the wives, ex-wives, lovers and partners of authors who can find themselves writ large in two hundred sizzling pages.  Not unnaturally, these people feel betrayed.

And of course the third thing that writers always do is steal.

So here’s the thing: how does one become a great writer without being a total sh*t?

That’s not a rhetorical question.  I actually want to know.

Kirk out

PS: what do you think of the title?  It came to me in the night and I thought it was pure ge…

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Genius? That’ll Be Everything You’ve Got, Madam

The current model of Genius At Work may be in flux but the go-to setting is the same as it has always been: a man in a study with a virtual Do Not Disturb sign on the door; family creeping around and No Interruptions Whatsoever.  Genius works odd hours and cannot be relied upon.  It won’t be awake in time to take the children to school or make their sandwiches.

If this genius has to balance writing with paid work he will come in, pour a glass, have some food and devote the rest of the evening (and weekend) to Art.  There are people who can do this: C P Snow was one, holding down a career first as a barrister, then as an academic and finally as a politician whilst writing a bunch of novels about – well, about being a barrister, academic and politician.

But I’ve never been able to do this, part of the reason being that unlike Snow, I don’t have clean clothes unless I wash them or food to eat unless I cook it (or at least wash up after it).  I don’t have a clean floor unless I vacuum it, or an organised environment unless I tidy.  Plus, I have children – and children interrupt.  It is inevitable.

Until they were teenagers I had no time to write: I was too busy earning a living and educating them at home.  Apart from a few snatched minutes morning and evening my only writing time was a couple of days away twice a year: it wasn’t nearly enough, and yet looking back it’s hard to see how I could have done anything differently.  It’s no good having children if you’re going to ignore them.

So what to do?

I would like to suggest a different model of genius.  I don’t deny that writing – or any art – takes time and concentration.  But I think it would benefit male artists as well as their partners to share in the domestic tasks – the reason being that doing the cleaning or washing up is very grounding.  To put it epigrammatically:

Every woman has to stop writing to put the tea on.  That is her tragedy.

No man does: that is his.

I suggest that historically, women go mad when they can’t write, and men do when they can.  This is due to a lack of balance.  Everyone needs to pitch in – and then we’ll get the work done.

I can feel Snow scoffing at this idea.  But then he had a housekeeper and a wife…

Kirk out

PS I don’t wish to give the impression that I am married to someone who doesn’t pitch in.  That is not the case

 

 

 

 

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NaNo

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month.  That’s what we used to say at school – and today, as well as being the first Wednesday it’s also the first actual day of the month; which means it’s time to link to the Insecure Writers Support Group:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com

November is the month of NaNo, of course: nothing to do with nano-technology (unless you write a particular kind of Lilliputian sci-fi) but National Novel Writing Month, a time when just about every writer I know goes into purdah in order to complete their latest project.  The idea is to write during the month of November an entire novel totalling no fewer than 50,000 words.  (If you’re wondering what 50K looks like, it’s a short novel: the average length is 80-100K.  But it’s still a huge achievement.)  And this month we are asked by the IWSG whether previously we have completed our NaNo projects (yes, nearly every time) and whether any of them have gone on to be published (no).

I’m not doing NaNo as such this year; I have, however, begun an epic poem along the lines of Wordsworth’s Prelude, telling in iambic pentameter the story of my life and poetry.  It’s epic in terms of length rather than subject, and I have no idea how long it will turn out to be, but we shall see.  It’s very hard to rhyme a poem of that length, so I have contented myself with blank verse, just the odd highlighted part in rhyming verse.  I’m finding it very helpful.

So that’s me.  If you’re doing NaNo I wish you all the best.  Let me know how you get on.

Kirk out

 

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The Six Labours of Microcles

Once or twice upon a time I came upon a book.  It was very slim for a novel, but it undoubtedly was one: about the same length as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly but for very different reasons, it was a short Proustian burst of contemplation on the minutiae of modern life.  Like noticing when you go up an escalator that the hand belt goes slightly slower than the steps and that it wobbles slightly as you grip it.  Like having long and complex thoughts about bendy plastic straws – that sort of thing.  And I seized upon this book with a great gladness, for I had thought until that moment that it was Just Me – or rather, Just I, who had these wonted but unwanted thoughts; these obsessions that didn’t ‘get me anywhere’ and which I couldn’t share with any of my fellow-travellers, but which nonetheless struck my obsessive mind as significant.

Anyway, it set me thinking about the minutiae of life and asking, why should we think small things are less important than large ones?  So in that vein here are some of the labours of Hercules’ lesser-known sister, Microcles:

  1.  untangle threads and fluff from a velcro fastener
  2. extract a wad of chewing gum from a child’s hair
  3. get every speck of soil from a dirty leek
  4. retrieve every atom of glass from a smashed thermos
  5. clean the dog poo from the soles of a pair of DM’s
  6. untangle a drawer full of string.

I can’t think of any more at the moment but that’s enough to be going on with.  I recommend the book, too:

Share and enjoy!

Kirk out

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The Horror! The Horror!

What a grizzly and unpleasant occupation writing is!  How many other jobs could you have where you go to work, slave for six solid hours and come home feeling that you’ve sweated blood and achieved nothing?  True, today – my first day back after a break – I did write a few spoof headlines for ‘Newsjack’ (they’re looking for contributions) but then I discovered that I’d missed the deadline for my headlines so now I have to scan the real headlines so that I can make more spoof headlines ahead of the deadline.  It’s making lines in my forehead…

Contenders for next week include the Trump ‘wall’ story latest and the ongoing Brexit saga.  Watch this space…

I find it difficult working in the library because of the other people coming and going and because I don’t have a space that is mine.  Unreasonably I regard the table at the far end as my space and get irritated if someone else bags it first: it’s also quite limiting that you only get three hours a day up to a total of seven a week on the computers.  But when I work from home, is it any better?  I get distracted by phone calls; I go in the kitchen to make a drink and end up loading the dishwasher.  It’s hopeless.  And when people say to me, as they sometimes do, how wonderful it must be to have a creative gift etc etc, I want to jump up and down and scream and say, ‘have you any idea what hell you go through to produce even the minutest piece of perfect prose?’  As Michael Caine used to say to people, if you wanted to do it, you’d be doing it.  If you really wanted to be an actor you’d be out there doing it; working in rep, am-dram, street theatre – whatever, just so you could act.  So if you want to be a writer, write.  After all it costs next to nothing: what could prevent you?

Anyway, even though I got entangled once more in the impenetrable thicket that is my novel, the day wasn’t entirely wasted.  After all, at the end of it I got to write this blog post…

Kirk out

 

 

 

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Lay Your Head on the Writer’s Block

I’m never quite sure what writer’s block is.  I know it refers to an inability to write, but what actually counts as writer’s block?  If you sit staring at a screen for hours without writing a word, does that count?  Or is that too short a time?  Does it have to last at least a few days or weeks before you can call it writer’s block?  And when I wasn’t writing at all between the ages of eight and twenty-four, was that writer’s block?  Or was it a crisis of identity?

Aside from the question of how long it lasts, what kind of thing is writer’s block?  Is it the complete inability to write a single word?  Or does it mean you don’t write anything you’re remotely satisfied with?  If it’s the latter, I’m in trouble – because ‘not remotely satisfied’ describes nearly every day’s work for me.  But if it’s the former I’m OK because most days I manage to write something, even if it’s only a blog post.  Which is why I’m so glad I have this blog, because on really bad days where I can’t string two morphemes together, I can at least manacle a blog post into position, run it up the flag and see if anyone salutes it.  A blog post is usually less than 500 words; it’s achievable and, with the click of a button, it’s published and ready to read.

OH has an interesting view on overcoming writer’s block.  In the same way that Michelangelo saw the sculpture as being hidden within the stone

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/michelange386296.html

you could regard writing as ‘taking away’ everything which is not the story.  I’m not sure how cutting things away works when faced with a blank page rather than a lump of rock, but it’s worth thinking about. *

In ‘His Dark Materials’, Phillip Pullman wrote of the subtle knife which cuts windows between different worlds, ‘you may have intentions but the knife has its own intentions.’

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/the-subtle-knife

This is an idea I try to bear in mind when writing a poem; that when writing I may have intentions, but the poem has its own intentions too.  Nevertheless, the blank page can be a very intimidating thing to overcome, so when I have a bad day and think all my thoughts are worthless, I try just to write, believing that anything is better than nothing and reminding myself without a first draft there can be no second draft, no finished version.

I guess the process of writing is hard to fathom, else there would be no such thing as writer’s block.  But it’s clear that writing begins with thought.  Thoughts occur in the mind, and the writer selects which of them to commit to paper: so maybe writer’s block begins here, at the level of thought.  When the mind is a blank, the page will be a blank.  However, in my experience what is more likely going on is that the mind is not producing anything your critical self deems worthy of using; hence a good exercise when blocked is to write whatever comes into your mind, no matter how nonsensical or seemingly worthless.  James Joyce did this, and look what he managed to produce just listening to the babbling of his mind!

Interesting things happen when we let go of controlling our thoughts.  And out of this arises poetry.

And I know it’s not the day for linking to it, but I’m going to link here to the Insecure Writers Support Group because this post is relevant.

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

Kirk out

*Sounds like some bizarre version of scissors, paper, stone…

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Filed under language and grammar, my magnum hopeless, novels and longer works, poems, short stories

There’s Novel!

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I can’t claim to be much affected by the Welsh language in this borderland village, since practically everyone I’ve met is (or sounds) English.  Actually that’s not entirely true: the pub boasts a landlady from New Zealand and a Latvian cook, but apart from them you only hear English accents.  Of course Welsh is written everywhere, whether it’s necessary or not; most public notices are posted in both languages and the street signs are also in English and Welsh, so that if you care to, you can pick up quite a few words.  I happen to know that dref means town and canol means centre; I am equally intrigued by the spelling of Eglwys (church) and the variations on Cymru arising from the confusing tendency of Welsh to change the beginnings rather than the endings of words.

I quite like Welsh.  It looks like a bundle of unpronounceable consonants, but once you understand that w and y are actually vowels (cue Zerothly telling everyone that y is a vowel in English too) and get to grips with how to say them, it’s quite straightforward.  Well, except that is pronounced v and ff is f and oh, a dozen other rules I can’t quite remember and about which zerothly will no doubt inform us, it is.  Once you get into it.  Of course it helps to hear it spoken which you don’t, hereabouts.

On the other hand, you can’t help wondering how necessary it is to have everything in two languages, especially when, as in one case, the place is called ‘Pandy’ in English and ‘Andy’ in Welsh.  Both signs are placed solemnly side by side as you come into the village: it makes me smile.

But if I’m not careful I’ll miss out the whole point of this post, which is the progress of my novel.  It’s going quite blindingly well; I have rushed at it like several bulls at a succession of gates and have last week passed the 50,000 word mark.  It’s in three sections and I’m currently feeling my way through the third; I shan’t finish before I go home at the weekend but the raw material is there for an excellent novel.

Hm.  I wonder what is the Welsh for ‘novel’?

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

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