Thursday 27 January 2011

Born to Write

I have to write. I just have to. Writing was always the delight of the school day, even when I could hardly scribble a few letters together on the page. It was the time to tell a story. The imagination would run wild. But it wasn’t just the content that was important. Weaving the words together to make the magic happen counted as well.
Grammar School killed it, though it at least taught me to write correctly and if I do break the rules, I do it for effect. Studying for a degree in French and German didn’t seem to help. But in retrospect I realise it provided rich experiences from which to draw stories.
Having children reawakened my intuitive side. And when they needed even more story than the books we had available could provide, I started to write.
We all need stories. It helps us to make sense of our worlds. I write mainly for young people and hope that what I show them with my words might give them a pattern against which to measure their experiences. I am a teacher, and I love being that too, but I think I can engage even better with my students when I write for them.
I constantly grow as a writer and get nearer and nearer to my goal of perfectly showing the world in all its beauty and diversity, though there is still a long journey ahead.
I was born to write. I can’t not write every day – it would be worse than not cleaning my teeth.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Getting the Ego Out of the way

I had a pretty good time with Peace Child yesterday. It went like a dream and in just over two hours I wrote just over 2,000 words. I think for once they were quite good. Often when I feel that I’m on a roll, I have to go back and do some drastic editing later. This time, I think, the writing was good, I could really see the whole plot and my main character was settling down. Also, the end seems to be in sight.
So, what was different this time?
I think my ego had got out of the way. I’d put the dream aside. It doesn’t matter whether I have a bestseller or carry on plodding for the rest of my life; I have to write. This is more a disease than a blessing. One day it might seem like a blessing. That day will never come if I don’t actually write. So what if I’m tired? I’ve just got to concentrate and do it.
So, I just concentrated and did it. The book’s the thing and not what it might do to my life style. I got some of the clearest pictures I’ve had for a while of the world I’ve created and some plot points also firmed up for me. I really did begin to care deeply about my protagonist. Coincidentally, I had an email from my editor about this character who appears also in a volume that’s about to come out. I have created the impression I wanted to. The efforts do pay off, then.
I recognise this from my days as a secondary school teacher. I’d swear I actually taught better on the occasions when I was a little tired or slightly ill, or even when my confidence as a teacher was shaken slightly. I tended then to be a little more in tune with what was actually going on and therefore became more aware of the needs of the students in front of me.
So what happened yesterday? Nothing much. I was a little tired, a little cold – although it’s warmer in Salford now it’s damper and that always feels cold – and a little under the January grey-sky weather. I wasn’t a glorious writer about to beat words into submission. I didn’t matter. The writing did. That’s all there was to do.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

The Struggle

It happens every so often. I get temporary “writer’s block”.
I’m immensely self-disciplined and know that once I’ve been at the keyboard for a while, the words will begin to flow. I’m aware too, that the days on which everything seems to flow smoothly, I write less well. On the days when I struggle a little, I write better.
But what I’m writing about here is a little different. It is the day of the Big Struggle. Yesterday was such a day. I could not think where to take my story next. I had lost the plot – literally. I was beginning to question the main premise of the novel. There are many themes and many issues, and the main one was getting lost in all of the detail. Plus, I worried about some pacing issues. My main character was irritating me.
One problem may be that I’ve had to put this aside for the best part of six weeks whilst I did some remedial work on the novel’s prequel – due out next month. It is easy to forget the details when you’re working with such a multi-layered plot. There’s pressure, anyway. I need to get at least the first draft of this novel finished by September, because then I have to leave the world of futuristic science fiction and plunge into the world of the historical novel. There are, of course, a number of parallels – both include creating another world.
Whatever the cause, for once yesterday, I did not enjoy writing.
I guess we all go through this at some stage – somewhere towards the end of the middle of our novels. Knowing that is useful to me: it’s happened before and it will happen again. How do I get out of it? I carry on writing.
I’ll have that joy tomorrow. I alternate working on the big project with working on others. Today I’ll be working on a non-fiction book. Fortunately, it seems to be writing itself. That could mean, of course, that I’m writing less well.
I guess it’s a matter of confidence. At least I know that this is just a passing phase. The first time you meet this, it can be devastating. If you’re facing that right now, have faith: it will pass.

Monday 10 January 2011

An Optimum Day

It was rather glorious at the weekend. I was in Wales, and for once the weather there was much better than in England – clear, mild for the time of year and snow-free. I’d left four inches of very wet snow and driven through freezing fog to get there.
I was there for a variety of reasons: to celebrate a friend’s birthday, to discuss a little business with her as she also a business partner, to catch up with some old friends and to meet one of our new authors.
It all worked like a dream. The journey was fine, I was delighted to meet the new addition to my friend’s family – a, friendly, very wriggly, puppy-come-dog. We swapped a few opinions about the business but of course couldn’t make any decisions without the other two partners. Mainly good, though.
We met up with some members of Cellar Writing Group on the Saturday morning at the Blue Sky café, Bangor. It is such a vibrant place. Some of our friends had one of the delicious breakfasts. We were being good. But we were intending to have lunch there.
The Cellar Writing Group had just started when I lived on Bangor. It has developed so positively. There are now genre-specific sub groups that work in a very professional way and send each other work in advance. Meeting at Blue Sky for breakfast every now and then is just another option – a great one, actually. It’s always good to talk to other writers about writing. Even better in a place with the ambience of the Blue Sky.
We met our new author. She won the Bridge House novel-writing competition. The noble happens to be set in North Wales. As the writing group gradually dispersed we were able to talk about our marketing ideas and an editing schedule.
We actually occupied a table for four hours in the café. We did them proud though: everyone had at least two rounds of drinks and one round of food.
It’s all appropriate anyway. Blue Sky is one of my Creative Cafés and what we did there epitomised what the Creative Café is all about. It optimizes the day even more when I remember that Blue Sky actually belongs to my second-cousin-in-law.
Yes, Friday evening / Saturday morning were part of an optimum day. I just had to round it off by stopping at Colwyn Bay on the way home. This was a favourite seaside place when I was a child and I used to dream then of someday living there. Well, I’ve sort of managed that.
And I was very pleased that on Saturday the tide was in and the waves were bouncing up on to the promenade. Definitely an optimum day.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Thank Goodness for Social Networking

I have worked as a writer for ten years now and for six of those also as an academic. Both of those occupations can lead to isolation. Ironically, there is also a need in both to network and make one’s presence felt so complete isolation is not an option. .
Once I had instilled some self-discipline into myself, I actually found I enjoyed being absorbed in my writing. The blank page never disturbed me and I learnt to write myself out of writer’s block. I found the days I was most dissatisfied with my work I produced the best writing. There was never any need to fear. A problem, though, was that a sort of cabin fever set it. I missed the school staffroom and I missed people. I found any excuse to go out and even visiting the accountant to talk through my tax return felt like a treat.
In addition networking opportunities didn’t come cheap and they always took up valuable writing time.
Gradually, though, I took on email and the inbox became a source of delight. It brought opportunities and contact with other writers. I joined some forums: notably Wordpool and SCBWI, later NibWeb and one or two others and I can quite honestly say that most of my writing success has come through connections I’ve found through these forums.
These days, the in-box brings in quite a bit of junk – despite two good filters -, quite a lot of stuff I elect not to read but allow to keep coming because some of it is useful, and one or two painful ones – like editorial comment I don’t agree with, a less than favourable review or even a bill. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of delights.
And then there’s the rest. I love Twitter and I tolerate Facebook. I find the latter clunky to use and it easily becomes a time--waster. I tend to be a passive user of it. I respond to what it sends me, though I do force myself to advertise my events and my books on it. Twitter is on all the time and I reward myself at the end of each task by going and having a peek.
I’m also an avid blogger and maintain six different blogs and regularly contribute to Triond. I usually start my writing day by writing something for one of the blogs, though I don’t force it if I don’t have anything to say.
The point is, even though I work in one of two little rooms, shut off form everyone, I feel connected to the world. Most of the people I follow on Twitter and who follow me are connected with the writing world, but there are a few others – for instance, I follow Jodrell Bank. Well, I do write science fiction.
Natalie Goldberg once pointed out that writers like working in cafés because the part of the brain that needs to feel connected with the world is satisfied because in a café you’re surrounded by the world. I feel a little like that knowing that I’m logged into Twitter. I don’t have to look at it all the time, but I know that the water-cooler is just a click away.
And of course, it’s all free networking.

Sunday 2 January 2011

Creating Worlds

Before I started writing The Prophecy, I spent months creating my world. I sat in cafés dreaming of Terrestra 3500. I worked out how people lived, what they ate, how they dressed, how society was organised, how they travelled around, what they believed in, what they did for fun and what the physical attributes were of the planet. On top of that, there were also the normal thoughts about character and plot.
Now, I’m revisiting all of that and thoroughly enjoying it. One of the editors at The Red Telephone has suggested that I provide a glossary of characters and setting features for readers of Babel as they may not remember it all from The Prophecy. He has a point. I’ve had to look up some things myself.
However, I’d never suggest using a glossary instead of setting everything up correctly. It should be obvious what certain things are and who certain people are from the way they are introduced. It would be wrong to bore readers of the second volume who knew the first for the sake of the handful who go straight to volume two. I’d like to emulate Oisín McGann who is a real master of setting up worlds, especially in his novel The Gods and Their Machines. There are no words of exposition. He simply shows us his world. This is extreme showing not telling.
Another writer who does this successfully, this time in an historical context, is Caroline Lawrence in her Roman Mysteries series. The first time you meet a Latin word or a little Roman culture, Lawrence makes her meaning transparently clear. She also includes these items in a glossary at the back of the book in case you have forgotten what an expression means the next time you meet it. For those readers who are really interested in Latin words and Roman culture there is more on her web site.
Yes, I’m really enjoying writing the glossary about the world I have created. It’s also reassuring me that my world works.