Saturday 30 October 2010

There's always something new to learn

Even after writing for so many, many years I am still learning what does and does not work for me.

Waking up in the middle of the night with an idea so powerful it's transcended my subconscious mind and I have to scribble it down somewhere, for example, works very well. An idea that starts slowly but keeps creeping back into my head every time I hear the same song also works well.

What did not work well recently was starting with a theme for a short story collection and writing towards it. I was writing profusely - story after story was flowing through my fountain pen. But then... I stopped to read them, and I realised - totally aghast - that they were the most mundane and insipid stories I've written for a long time.... if ever!

So, lesson learnt: write with passion, write a story that can't not be told, write every sentence as though it is the only sentence that matters.... and if after that the stories feel like they belong together, put them together. Ah, that's better.

Saturday 23 October 2010

A better way to procrastinate

Today was a good day, because I used writing as a means to escape any of the decorating and household tasks I had been planning. How perfect was that! So determined not to even venture near a paintbrush was I, that I closed my study door and wrote a completely new story from scratch, 1500 words of it. I'm going to use my self-imposed Saturday evening lock-down to read the story over a glass of wine and deliver my verdict to myself.

All I need to do now, is be able to write like that for several hours every day, without the inevitable pull of checking my email and Facebook... Unfortunately, I have quite a lot of literary contacts as 'likes' and friends on FB, so after I check those - you never know when a new competition or market will open - I tend to check out what my real friends are doing, and therein lies my downfall. I did decide that I would use my desktop computer to write and only go online on my laptop, which was working well for about... oh, let's say, an hour, before I had a really urgent fact that needed to be verified. So I logged on, and an hour later I realised it was time for lunch.

This writing thing works really well when I'm in the zone, but as soon as I have even the slightest of distractions I'm off... Maybe the answer is to have a never-ending list of decorating to do?

Friday 15 October 2010

A comment on the Booker Prize 2010

[Edited to include the year in the title, to avoid confusion with any other years.]

I probably should have commented on the Booker Prize before now. I suppose it's a given that a writer will have an opinion about this prize. But I'm not sure I do; it usually passes me by. I did comment when the longlist was announced, but since then.... meh!

Some of the problem is that I am predominently a short story writer, so I am therefore more interested in prizes for short stories, and there are some very big prizes that are starting to come to the fore. I like to read these stories worth £5000, £10,000 and £35,000 to see where I'm lacking. Mostly, I have figured out - and this applies to any novel I might write - my stories are not big enough, they do not encompass the large political issues of the day. A lot of the time, they are very small, personal stories. Although I have many opinions, I don't think I'd be able to express them in fiction form.

Another problem is the way I chose to read novels - usually by the look of the cover, the title or, as with one book I bought recently, something striking in the blurb. The blurb of the book I bought, The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, stated that they didn't want to ruin the story so I'd have to buy the book and please could I not tell my friends the ending so they'd have to read it for themselves. So I did buy it. Admittedly, the novel didn't warrant such extraordinary claims - it was a good story, and a good ending, but nothing of the magical element I'd expected. Although, I bet the marketing team were damn pleased with themselves for coming up with that angle!!

Anyway, back to my point on the way I chose to read novels - I do not buy books that have large prizes bestowed upon them; I am more likely to avoid them. Not consciously, not seeing the Booker display in a bookshop and running screaming in the opposite direction. I like to browse and look for something a little out of the ordinary. Big books with big prizes seem sometimes out of my league, I suppose. And mostly, when I feel a book is out of my league - if I do persuade myself to read it - I want it to be mindblowing, absolutely so astounding that the story haunts me for the rest of my life.

Not a lot of books do that though...

Saturday 9 October 2010

Today I am in a 'what shall I do next?' mood

I'm 3000 words into my latest short story - already it's a little longer than I imagined; in fact, there was a time I couldn't write anything longer than 2000, no matter how hard I tried, so I suppose I should be glad by this new-found verboseness. I've got to that nitty-gritty point of the book where I can either steer it into deep and dark territory, or make it a happy ending (and therefore, based on previous experience, much more publishable).

I'm torn. At the moment the characters are taking me to the happy ending, and the longhand first draft I wrote took me in the same direction. But reading that again made me want to veer off course slighty.

Usually, I have the ending in mind before I start writing. In some cases, after the title, which always comes first, I have the last line or two jotted down on the page, just so that I can see where I'm going. I also read novels and short stories in this way. I don't like to be surprised - I even read the last few pages of each of the Harry Potters before I started.

So, as I mull over this eternal question of happy v dark and deep, I shall have a couple of games of Sudoku and hopefully the answer will pop into my head.

Monday 4 October 2010

Print v E-stuff

Okay, I'll admit from the start that when I first heard about e-publishing (all those years ago, now, it seems) I was one of those people who shouted a big Nooooooooooo (and probably sank to my knees in the middle of a rain storm, while I was at it).

It all seemed wrong - I love the smell and feel of a new book, indeed the smell and feel of an old book. I get excited when I find an old book, published at the start of the last century in a charity shop; I've bought books before based solely on their age. And it all seemed a little Star Trek-y - I remember an episode of Deep Space Nine where a teenage character wanted to be a writer and, basically, was using an iPad!!

I've never read an e-book, so I still cannot form a balanced and researched argument (although I'm still veering towards Noooooooo), but I did recently subscribe to an e-magazine about writing. And I fear my first doubts were reasonably accurate.

The link fell into my Hotmail account a couple of days ago, and I opened it at my desktop computer. It flipped like a magazine, I zoomed in to read the articles... so far, so good. But then I realised I was flicking past articles I would normally have read, if for example I'd been curled up on the sofa, cup of tea in hand, pages folded back on themselves. I also realised that my very preferred method of reading a magazine - backwards - seemed counter-intuitive with an electronic version.

My desktop computer was not the place to load it up, too officey. So next I used the laptop, which was a little better, I managed to sit on the sofa! But I could only read in small chunks due to a disposition towards vertigo/dizziness. And I still found that I was skipping articles that I would have read with a hard copy version.

I'm not going to name the magazine - it's actually very good, it's not the content I'm commenting (I originally used complaining here, but I'm not really doing that) about, and it would probably welcome some praise and extra readership, so I may well do at a later date. It's merely the format I'm talking about here.

So, in conclusion, my original reactions still hold true, and I think I may start to fear a future where e-publishing becomes the norm.