Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Writing about Writing about Writing

Before I ever wrote, I thought writers magically pulled books out of their brains for me to read. They were inspired by their muses to delight and entertain. They were mystics for our age. Then I started writing. I knew it wasn’t true. Yes, writing is an art, but it is also a craft, with practicalities and technicalities and other –alities.
   It was when I started writing that I wanted to know how writers wrote. Not the nonsense about their muses, but the when, where, how, whys. I tried ideas, I stole suggestions, I ate words. Nine years later I am still working out what works.
Now I have to explain how I do it. As part of our MA submissions we write rationales. These are companions to the creative works. I can understand from an academic perspective that they are essential. They prove reflection, they talk through decision-making, influence, inspiration, dafting, I mean drafting and re-dafting, I mean re-drafting.
   But bloody hell, they’re exhausting! I was angry with myself yesterday for not getting much more than 500 words down. Today I have realised I can’t rush a rationale. It has to be carefully considered, it has to be carefully referenced. It has to be interesting enough to read.
   My previous rationales have been theoretical, clever, even creative. This one is currently nuts-and-bolts honest. I’m not sure where that will leave me marks-wise. I’m trying desperately not to care about marks. But for a short-term short short-storiest to take on the novel, now that is a challenge. It was one of the reasons for MAing, to force myself into that most frightening form. My rationale focuses on how I made the leap in scale.
   The dissertation is the first 20,000 words. The novel will be the progeny of the MA. My plan is to tout it at next year’s Winchester Writer’s Festival. And at that stage there will be no requirement to rationalise. If anyone asks I will say the story fell, fully-formed into my head when I bashed into a lamppost.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Flash: Pen Friend

Until recently, there was an angry little man that lived in my pen. He made me write things. I couldn’t take any credit for my creative writing but neither did I take responsibility for my acerbic critiques. 
   Last Tuesday, when I was replacing the refill in my pen, he leapt out of his home and onto my page.
   ‘I am not happy,’ he said. ‘Even for someone of my stature it is not comfortable living in a pen.’

   ‘If it helps, I’m not happy either.’

   ‘Why?’ he asked, scowling up at me.

   ‘I wish you were a woman,’ I told him, ‘I dislike being dictated to by a man.’

   ‘That’s it,’ he said, ‘I’m moving out.’

   ‘No notice?’ I asked, panicking slightly.

   ‘No.’ He dived into my pen and I resisted trapping him back in there. When he reappeared, he was holding a tiny suitcase.

   ‘So long,’ he said, and smiled for the first time ever.

   I watched him walk away, heaving his suitcase behind him. He walked as far as my laptop. There, he surveyed the keyboard and glowing screen and gave a sigh of contentment. He strode to the home key, pulled it up and jumped inside.

   ‘Here, you can escape whenever you want to,’ I told him.

   ‘And I’ll try and get in touch with my feminine side,’ he replied from his new abode.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Paper Swans Schooldays Book Launch

On Saturday I went to the Paper Swans London book launch for their anthology Schooldays. I use to live in London and after I left commuted to it for several more years. Last weekend was the first time I felt like a proper tourist there. My spatial awareness was more shocking than ever and I spent my whole time apologising to bumped-into people. Oh, and the fantastic unfriendliness of Londoners. I love and hate that capital aloofness, those dead and disparaging eyes. I wonder if I used to have them?
Contrast this with going down the stairs of the Poetry Café for the Schooldays launch. It was a warm, creative haven. Warm being a polite understatement; it was one of the hottest days of the year. The chairs set out for us were orange plastic old-school school chairs. A glass of white wine from the selection upstairs reduced but did not rid me of my nerves. Seeing fellow Winchester writer @MadelaineCSmith helped too. I was in kind company.
Sarah Miles, the Editor and Head of Paper Swans Press led the event and introduced us, with the aid of A B Cooper. Then the writers read. I love reading, it takes up an inexcusable amount of my time, but possibly I love being read to even more. Especially if it is straight from the author’s mouth (I have a vision of nose bags of words now). Or maybe it stems from those very schooldays we were writing about; sitting on the carpet in the corner of the classroom being read to by teachers who were often frustrated actors, pouring their talent into bringing these books alive. It is definitely my way into poetry; I always want to hear a poet speak.
The array was eclectic but balanced. There was fear and fun and torture and humour. There was pathos and at times tears in my eyes. There was a lot of resonance and I realised what stays with us from our schooldays is often very similar. Being accused and feeling guilty even though you are innocent. Baby birds dying. Getting pierced. Getting pissed. Corridors outside school discos. The embarrassment of getting it wrong. Brutal violence. Friendships that don’t survive to Big School. Children that could fly. I remember all this too.
I’m proud and excited to be part of this anthology. Paper Swans Press are a wonderful voice for poets and flash fictioners. They have fun competitions and inspiring prompts too. Buy the book, it’s great, and I promise I’m not just saying that because I’m in it!