Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The writing process...or something.

With thanks to Paul McVeigh for asking me to join in with this writers' stream of information. 
This is allegedly about my writing process. It is a sort of writers' chain blog, in which a writer reveals what they wish of their process, their work, and passes the baton to a few writers they admire. However, I came across this quote the other day, and thought it might be useful/relevant to preface my own post with these words, as, although they were written by a sculptor, they are arguably relevant to writers, too:
Reclining Figure, Moore.

“It is a mistake for a sculptor or painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases the tension needed for his work. By trying to express his aims with rounded-off logical exactness, he can easily become a theorist whose actual work is only a caged-in exposition of concepts evolved in terms of logic and words… the artist works with a concentration of his whole personality, and the conscious part of it resolves conflicts, organises memories, and prevents him from trying to walk in two directions at the same time.” Henry Moore, 1898-1986.

I am tempering my self-exposure these days! Be warned. Besides, look at the poor woman's HEAD! Looks like an axe has taken away the frontal right lobe. the four questions. 

 What am I working on?
Not a lot, to be honest. There is a novel sitting half done, or maybe more than half. A bit of a breech birth in progress, taking me and the attendant novel-doctors by surprise. They are all rushing about fetching forceps and scalpels, gas and air, mallets, ghastly looking needles and rolls of barbed wire. Not to mention the two padlocked empty cages, keys at the ready, one labelled ‘dangerous animal do not approach,’ the other with padded walls stinking of bleach. Did I mention it is a dual narrative effort...?
At the sight of those rolls of barbed wire, the mother-to-be has sunk into a faint, a deep sleep that will last a hundred years (or at least one...). Plus the fact that she is too occupied with other things to be writing much for the next year. Ten years at the coal face now, a few OK books out there, family calling...other priorities...:)
However, she will be keeping one eye slightly open, hoping to carry on with a series of poems written in collaboration with the terrific Caroline Davies - a collection due to be published (with a fair wind and all the gods willing) by Cinnamon Press in 2016. 
How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I'm going to get difficult now. What an extraordinary question. To answer it correctly, I would have to have read every single work of fiction purporting to be literary, every single short story in that genre that has ever been written, every poem in the history of poetry that has ever dealt with loss, with conflict and with memory. 
More importantly - the question assumes that ‘my work’ - ie: everything I write - is exactly the same. The same, that is, in relation to all other work of the same genre. Get real, questioner - whoever set these things - no doubt someone sitting bored as hell in their study trying to work out the latest way to waste their time... How is The Coward’s Tale the same as the poetry collection, which must be the same as the  two collections of shorts, one of which is about conflict and the other which isn’t? Which are of course all the same as Ed’s Wife - a daft collection of illustrated flashes about a marriage of sorts. And exactly the same as a text book written by 26 people. Oh yes. Samey.
Aaagh. They are so different, I can’t even begin to put them in the same box. 
Let’s truncate the question. 
Q: How does my work differ? 
A: My work differs. Full stop. So I’m told. It is not for me to analyse.  

Why do I write what I do?
 Another extraordinary question - who on earth thinks up these things? Here is the only answer possible. 
Ans: Because I do not write that which I do not.  Patently. If I did write that which I don’t write, I would be quite amazing. I am not that, therefore I do not. See?

How does my writing process work?
Ah, now. Had the question been: ‘What is your writing process?’, I’d have been delighted to give a long, long, intelligent response to this one (even though it can be rather stultifying to do so) in the hopes that it might be useful to one or two aspiring writers who could say “Ah! Yes! I do that too! I am OK in this thing I do because SHE does it. Therefore...” and they would extrapolate and come to conclusions. Then they could blame me when it all went not right, sending round teams of heavies to drag me before whatever  writing establishment courts there may be, demanding retribution, and fines, and tweaking my nose. 
But happily I won’t have any nose-tweakings, because that question has not been asked!
So, to address the matter in hand. How does my writing process work? The very question, ladies and gentlemen, presupposes the thing WORKS! What if it doesn't? Therefore, may I respond with a few questions, even though that is awfully bad form? 
  1. What is the mind? How does that work, precisely?
  2. What is imagination? How does that work, precisely?
  3. What is the will? What motivation? 
  4. What is tenacity? How does that work, precisely? 
  5. What is stubbornness, bloody-mindedness, and how do they work, precisely? 
  6. How does a cow learn to refine its vocalisations to approximate the mezzo-soprano of, say, Frederica Von Stade? More meaningfully, how did Mozart write this? How? (For those who do not like opera much, skip the intro to 46 seconds in...) 
Seriously - There are no real answers, are there? We read. Read more. Become enamoured of this thing. We want to do it too, this thing called writing. We find a way to do it, and we do it, whether that means joining classes or struggling on our own, taught by the writing of others. There are many many different ways - some people will tell you that there are short cuts. Some will tell you there are not. They are both wrong. Both right.
Some people will dig into their psyche and reveal all the guts. Not pretty. I’ve done that plenty of times, all Googlable, I’m sure. So I won’t do that here, forgive me. 
Why? Because at the moment,  I think there is only one way of doing this thing. Yours. YOUR way. Your process. Including giving up for a whole year! Embrace your own process, and enjoy.

And now... the moment you have all been waiting for. Back to normality, to decent and lovely writer-types, who will be far more serious and generous than I. 

Salena GoddenSalena Godden has been described as ‘The doyenne of the spoken word scene’ (Ian McMillan, BBC Radio 3’s The Verb);  ‘The Mae West madam of the salon’ (The Sunday Times) and as ‘everything the Daily Mail is terrified of’ (Kerrang! Magazine). Her most recent book of poems 'Under the Pier' was published by Nasty Little Press in 2011. Her eagerly awaited literary memoir 'Springfield Road' was successfully crowd funded and will be published with Unbound Books in September 2014. Salena Godden tops the bill at literary events and festivals internationally. She can be heard on the BBC as a guest on Woman’s Hour, Click, From Fact To Fiction, The Verb and was a resident poet on R4's Saturday Live. She currently works alongside award-winning radio producer Rebecca Maxted. 'Try A Little Tenderness – The Lost Legacy of Little Miss Cornshucks' was aired  throughout May 2014. This follows the success of their last collaboration 'Stir it Up! - 50 Years of Writing Jamaica' also for BBC R4. 'Fishing In The Aftermath / Poems 1994-2014' marks twenty years of poetry and performance and will be published with Burning Eye Books in July 2014.

Julia Bohanna (although she might put her responses elsewhere, not sure...)
In 2013, Julia won the Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition, was runner-up in The Bath Short Story Award and winner in The Yellow Room Short Story Competition. Her short story collection Ink Eyes was also shortlisted for Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize in 2012. Julia is currently Editor of Wolf Print (UK Wolf Conservation Trust’s magazine) and Columnist on The Inflectionist.
Publication credits include Mslexia, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday, BBC Wildlife Magazine and The Simple Things. She has also contributed stories to several short story anthologies, including 100 Stories for Queensland and From Hell to Eternity. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Cover for O Conto do Covarde - from Bertrand Brasil

I found this on Twitter - the Brazilian edition of The Coward's Tale, to be published later this year by Bertrand Brasil.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Stepping off the treadmill...

Golly, a whole month seems to have gone by. A momentous month in a lot of small ways.

Those who have been following my blog and the previous one, for a while will know that I discovered four sisters a few years ago - a joyous and poignant thing. And on Good Friday, a few little weeks ago now, one of them died. I’m still coming to terms with that - the loss of a sibling - a younger sibling - is a salutary thing, and can not help but make you reappraise your own life and what you are doing with it.

This year, as I said in the previous post, my esteemed other half has a specific job to do, which can be absolutely wonderful, but is also onerous for him. I don’t think it is good enough to disappear for weeks on end, as I’m used to doing, or indeed for my focus to be almost solely on my work, which it has been for a decade. So writing is, I’ve decided, going to take a back seat for the next year. 

I find it surprisingly easy to write that! Maybe it’s a good thing to happen, too. Novel no 2, is half there - and half not. The events of the last month or so led me to wonder why I’m chasing my tail worrying about it all, trying too hard to get this one right, and getting it wrong as a r esult. Mainly, I was responding to the expectation that once you’ve had one novel published, you have to do another. Quick!  Or critics nod sagely and say, “There you go, told you so.” Then you do another, because that’s what the  industry wants. But do I want to do that over and over? I’m really not sure.  Whatever, I certainly do not want to fall into the ‘bad second novel’ trap, just to get one out there. Put simply, I am stepping off the industry hamster wheel for a bit, to see what it feels like, and goodness it feels good a few days in!

I’m not forsaking the wider writing life altogether. Still running some very interesting workshops over the next few months, and look forward to putting my creative energies into those. The Word Factory, The Short Story Conference in Vienna among others - I’m looking forward to those with real pleasure - in the knowledge that I have the time and the peace to have fun planning those.  

Poetry, and the collaboration with Caroline Davies, a collection inspired by memorials and rolls of honour from WW1, is well under way. That causes no worry, just pleasure, as little pieces surface, are worked on, and add to the kaleidoscope. It can chug along as it needs to. And I can’t wait for a whole week in Ireland doing some learning - working with Bernard O’Donoghue later in the year. 

The realisation that I can step off the treadmill is wonderful. My lovely characters will breathe deeply, a sigh of relief, and can have a well-earned sleep for a stretch, and I can come back to them when it is right to do so.  They, and their maker, have nowt to prove to anyone - and if peeps think I do, well that’s their issue, not mine!