Saturday, January 30, 2010

Not blown it slid

Sun dog at Bradwell, 2007. If you look closely at things which seem, on first glance, to be too expansive - such as this sky - you can be surprised by the most beautiful details. All you have to do is look for them, then stay focussed.

At times it can be difficult to visualise. Stacks of books which have slid into chaos and are peppered with notebooks may not look like they have purpose. Stapled gatherings of academic papers, theories wild and tame, weighed down. Sprigs of plants and pressed flowers. Pencils marking pages and more post-it notes than it takes to feather a notice board. Sometimes I look at it and am overwhelmed. Frustrated. This is my novel.

I imagine it like a small aviator.

You can't see it?

Currently it's over feathered, over fed, and has too much unneccessary weight.

I am going to lift away the extra layers.

When I have finished it will have a strong and powerful core with two beautiful sleek wings to carry it all the way to publication.

I can do this. Sometimes I have to remind myself.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On words

Imagine they are your children; your family -do what you have to do to feel for them. Start small - one thing at a time - and see what we can do.

You start again. You sit there and you write. You write even if it is utter drivel. Then you sit and write some more.

You cannot change everything. You can change some things. Accept what you cannot change. Learn to live with the possible.

You are a published writer: you have a blog. Now your readers must think their own thoughts about what you have reported.Several consciousnesses focussed on the same theme. Better than nothing.

But you can't change the world....Do as much as you can with the constraints that are placed upon us; you can do no more.
Donna Hosie

I think writers could make a difference. But many of us only want to entertain.

The Telling IS the doing.

Through our blogs, we're gathering in a circle around a fire, talking and crying, laughing and cheering, trying to make sense of this crazy, mixed-up world. And if, in the end, it makes us feel less odd, less lonely and less pessimistic, maybe we won't go out and slap someone.
Kass do what you can do... hug and love your children, hug and love your friends, hug and love yourself, and know that...

A man walking down the beach came upon a man who stood among countless washed up sea stars. He was picking them up one at a time trying to throw them into the sea. The walking man hollered, "You know you can't save them all." The other man stopped for just a minute with a sea star in his hand and replied, "I know, but I can save this one." And he threw the sea star back into the sea.

"We're all looking for heaven, which is later and elsewhere. Actually everything in front of us right now is a miracle, here and then gone, forever. What's the nature of that miracle? I don't know: no one does, and that's it's nature. You can't even really say that: but you have to keep on asking the question. That's what makes us human."
Annotated Margins quoting Norman Fischer

Most of us just use our blogs for preening. So that's one small difference You've already made.
Thomas Taylor

...trying to accept being human...guess it's no harder or easier than being anything else...depends where you live..
Rachel Fenton

There are way too many hard, harsh, hideous, cruel things in the world.

I think that I write to try to communicate and interpret the world. Sometimes just writing for me helps to work through some of the unfathomable worldly tangles.

Individually we can be the best friends/neighbours/people we can be. We can shine goodness as best we can.
Sara Crowley

If we didn’t have journalists and their photographers out in places like Haiti then the world would never know how bad things are. Individually I have no doubt that they do their bit when there but even if they never lifted a hand other than to click a shutter that would be enough. Like many I have the photo of Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the nine-year-old Vietnamese girl running down a road near Trang Bang after a South Vietnamese Air Force napalm attack, embedded in my mind. The same goes for the young man shot in front of our eyes during the '68 Tet Offensive. The sad thing is that over thirty years on I’m still seeing images like this and they don’t affect me like they once did. That doesn’t mean they have lost their power and for some the photos from Haiti will be the first images of a disaster like this that they will have seen and they will be the ones that will become a part of them.

Do you know what I remember about Live Aid? Bob Geldof. Now, why him? Because of the state he worked himself into. You could see how frustrated he was. He didn’t have the words. What words were there? But then we have this wee, scruffy, Irishman getting all worked up at swearing at the British public before the watershed: "Fuck the address, let's get the numbers!" After the outburst, giving increased to £300 per second. He reminded us, the generation who’d cracked jokes in the playground about starving Biafrans, that these were real people; you’d think it was his family that was dying out there and, of course, we’re all related if you go back far enough.

I don’t know the people in Haiti. But I know you. I should feel for them but what I feel is for you. You have become a proxy. I should feel the way you do. We all should. We’ve forgotten how. That’s why we need writers, to hold our hands and lead us into scary places we'd rather not go.
Jim Murdoch

I have that photograph, Jim, along with one of a man being beheaded in a public square - before and after the blade came down - in a highschool text book I didn't return. And others. And for the most part I, too, amble through life with little daily thought about such matters because I am too caught up in my immediate sphere of existence to give them the time of consideration...I remember kids in my class laughing at these images...I remember leaving the room to be sick after looking at the beheading one...I remember Live Aid, the swearing and the pot-bellied kids with big heads and spindle limbs and all the bloody flies, the colour of the dust and the richness of contrast where a droplet of saliva or a tear escaped and the flies going in and out of gawping mouths and feeding on those tears, and how for years afterwards all people remembered was the godawful song...I remember the start to Isherwood's "Goodbye Berlin"..."I am a camera.." and there are dozens of others who have used that same line in one way or another but there's one fundamental problem with that idea...a camera cannot feel, it cannot move of its own accord...we can, I can...there's a difference between passivity and ignorance...observing and ignoring...thank you for reading and for taking the time to make a difference to me...
Rachel Fenton

...while art can seem trivial when compared to the pain and suffering some people go through on a daily basis, I think that it can give some kind of a hope - I think of how listening to music helped me during admittedly much less tougher times - perhaps the frailty and shortcomings of art can be what makes it powerful in a way.

I love the idea that you and I and all other writers - and I add here artists of all types who represent humankind and life - join hands to speak about things that would otherwise not be said or heard.
Elisabeth's easy to feel overwhelmed by the horror of it all, the tragedy, the unnecessary unfairness of care/aid/finance. I've certainly been feeling that. And then my daughter comes home all excited about money they've raised at school...and what do you say? 'It's all hopeless, the world is unfair?' No, I didn't say that. At 9 I'm still keeping some of that from her...when I can.

At times like this writing can seem like a bloody stupid thing to be doing. We see nurses on TV and think 'look at them, they can DO something!' But we can't all be nurses. We just can't.
Rachel Fox

we can't change a world, but we can change our small part of it. I do my best to be decent to other people: I may not be able to love, help or change them, but I can be decent to them. And decency involves truth, sharing thoughts, and listening.

Right then...I'll do what I son's filled his nappy and the sun is shining...onwards...
Rachel Fenton

Vanessa Gebbie's got news on what writers can do to help Haiti over at her blog.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

No thing

You know what, I sit here wondering what pile of utter dross to write next when there are kids being shot in the head for nicking a couple of pictures in the name of law and order -what's that? Oh, we call this democracy, this view that we know what's right and what's not. Who are you if you can kill a child? No thing is worth killing anyone for. Well what is the point of being a writer? What do we do? We watch and listen and write what we feel and nothing happens. If you're a published writer you get your thoughts published. If you're a nobody like me you go on as usual. Nothing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Feel write

This was in my file of "Phone Photos". I have no idea when, where, what it is - looks like a very blurry view - it seemed fitting.

Today is Wednesday - evening for me, morning for some of you, and some other unfathomable time differences for others. I hadn't planned on posting anything new until Friday but I'm such a rebel!

I've been stuck with my WIP for weeks now, or thought I was, until I realised I was only snagged on that chapter. My novel is in three parts and I have the first and the final parts planned out to such sphincter toning precision that when I came to planning the central section (for which I have been researching for months) I found I was somewhat constricted - creatively constipated one might say.

The research has been intriguing, fascinating and moving and I have learnt a phenomenal amount. I wish I could tell you some of the wonderfully random and amazing things I now know but I'm hanging on in case I can or need to use them in my narrative. However, the research has posited a huge burden on my narrative frame. I have acquired some very special information but with it comes a responsibility. I cannot simply write what I feel like writing because I have not only the facts to bear in mind (not to mention all the dates which are driving me out of my innumerate mind) but  also the feelings and integrity of real people.

Last weekend - with some assistance from my fellow tinternetters with their bloggy bludgeons - I forced myself to write the first chapter of the central section. It took me all of Saturday to get the basic shape of the thing, with the relevant historical detail (that was the real difficulty - I have all this wonderful information and I cannot use ninety percent of it - no that's not an actual figure, I have no idea of an actual figure but it seems like the shape of ninety percent - but I want to), and the plotting just so.

Usually I would leave it at this stage and move on to the next chapter and then revise after a few to make sure it wasn't getting too out of shape or that elements or characters weren't deviating too far from my plans. Small mistakes early on can devastate the plot evolution later on and it's letting the plot spin a few wheel burns later that's the fun part so I don't want to curb my fun by not being careful early on. Only I haven't got any plans, not in my sense of the word plans, for this central section yet. Or so I thought.

I'd been hung up on this section for so long - rummaging through masses of notes and documents to try to piece together a plot - that I'd forgotten about the thing I could do. Therefore (note absence of "so" to start this sentence), on Saturday I put the research to one side and I just wrote. I stopped worrying about the dates and the facts and all the other details that have been escalating in my easily overawed leetle brain and I wrote. And it was wonderful. I have a thousand post-it notes stuck all over to remind me of details to follow up on or add later but I let the words flow and didn't stall them with sense or reason and I got a first draft of a chapter. I was so relieved that I sent it to some people who have a very vested interest in this section of the novel and they were thrilled - the protagonist is, they said, just how they - his family - have always thought of him. PHEWSH!

And I am light. I can write without the weight of responsibility holding down my wrists. And now I can't wait to see where the words will take me next. I had been hopping into my planned sections and writing the odd bits but I really find those easy and I want to save them until the last. The central part had become the Brussels sprout, the part I must get out of the way first, but now I'm developing an acquired taste for it. I'm still not comfortable about not having it all planned out to precision for this section but I have a brief outline and now I have a start....and I'm going to go with the flow and see what happens. I'm going to let myself feel what to write. So far it feels right.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Using my bottle

I think this is possibly the ugliest piece of work I've ever created. It's a self portrait of a seventeen year old me.

I don't need compliments, I need advice.

When I was seventeen I kept a diary. Ten years later I read it back and wanted to exterminate my seventeen year old self. Luckily I didn't have to - she was trapped. Another four and no doubt I'll laugh, if I can find the diary to read it that is. I hadn't thought about it at all until I trawled through some old pictures for inspiration.

I like getting older. From sixteen to thirty I looked nineteen, it was a blessing and a curse. Now I look my age (thanks to the NZ sun), feel it (thanks to relocating across the globe and extending my family), and all I need is for the sense to kick in (?).

What's the best piece of writing (or other) advice you've ever received, what's the worst, and do you like avocados?

Oh, and, if you see a familiar looking bottle at the beach don't uncork it! Some things are better left forgotten.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I doll

I made this doll for the daughter of a friend. It isn't perfect but I like that. I think she did too. It was supposed to resemble her her but she doesn't know her self yet, doesn't have an "I", and when she does it may be nothing like her.

I make a lot of things - I can't sit still - when I'm not writing I'm thinking about writing but I still need to occupy my hands. Kids help fill most of my time, in fairness, and they are a much needed constant in my life. However, when they are tucked up in bed my mind is still very busy, even if my bones are tired.

Often my idleness is elbowed aside by painting, other times I make stuff, rarely I clean house. My creations aren't always as enthusiastically received as this doll was. Sometimes I get cold feet and don't give the thing I made away at all, like a pamphlet of poems recently, and I try to keep in mind that not everyone digs pressed flowers. I'm something of an oldy worldy scatterbrain when it comes to gifts. Don't expect anything cool from me! I'm with the give what you'd like to receive brigade but what I'd like seldom corresponds with what others like to receive.

Where's all this going I hear you ask? (Actually I just asked myself as I had no idea when I started this post!)

Not such a big deal? Now I'm making a novel it is. I don't want to get thousands of words in and have written something nobody wants to read. Having written ten thousand words of notes I want to get this novel right for as many readers as possible.

And I wondered....what was the nicest gift you ever received and what do you most want/look for in a novel?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Wring out the old

Sorry this is a long one, I usually like to keep things snappy! Note the vicar - he was on the news recently. Google St Matthew's in the City! - Andrea at Rainbow notebook, I'll try and get a front shot in another time!

2009 was a whirlwind of a year for me, both personally, privately and for my writing. You could say I've been through the wringer! Done a brief inventory and discovered something pretty unbelievable - I wrote (this does not mean they are "finished") fifty poems in 2009, thirty poems in the month of December alone! Would love to post them up here but I'm going to overcome my submission fear and send them out to some ezines and journals etc when they are right.

As well as the poetry there was the flash and short fiction (and some of my flash merges with my poetry but I keep it separate): I wrote fifty stories and gathered together what I hope can become my first collection - no news is good news, right? Plus, I sent a couple of things to competitions. I even managed to make myself cry with a couple of stories!

I also wrote a novel. Back in May/June I wrote a novel set in my old home town - to exorcise it I suppose and allow me to move on. It's a good story and an easy read with a linear narrative and a lyrical style and a funny protagonist. It's also an allegory. It took me four weeks to write 80,000 words (and no, it isn't a load of hits) and almost killed me! The bones of the story had been with me for some time and allowed me to do a chapter by chapter breakdown of the plot and, essentially, write a chapter per night. At weekends I would work on it for twelve hours per day and it was both the easiest and hardest thing I have accomplished. It served it's purpose. I no longer have any urge to revisit any aspect or elements of my home town in a novel! I am cleansed! What it also "taught" me, however, was that I want to write more complex novels. My first novel was/is quite complex and I think my lack of success with that had put me off a little, made me think I should go more mainstream, but you know what, I am who I am and I write what I write and so I'm back to writing just for me: and it feels good. It feels very good.

As soon as I decided that a stack of books lifted off my shoulders and left me with a spanky new dust jacket.

I'm going to take my time with my latest WIP - not because I think I've earned it (incidentally, I do think I should have some sort of holiday - offers on a postcard!) - but because I want to savour it. I want the words I commit to it to be the very best I can for the words' sake as well as the narrative's. It's proving to be a challenge, in every sense, to me. I am struggling with a lot of numbers on a weekly basis and I, as I've blogged before, am not bedfellows with numbers. And that brings me to another point...

...For the past year I have been writing on my bed! Since my son became active I haven't been able to leave my writing laying about all over the place and have had to decamp to my bedroom (oh, to have a bigger house - come on agents, make those publishers buy my books!). It's not ideal: it's not even comfortable (really, you should try it: the sheer perversity of being on your bed and not sleeping....), and my back aches and my bottom gets nins and peedles far too frequently.

I wanted to go into 2010 with a more balanced approach to writing, less like a learner driver - gas/breaks/gas/breaks ... - I may not be able to change my personality but I have got more defined and realistic goals, ones which don't put so much pressure on me to be a writing machine, don't need so much grease or un-clogging, and allow the words to sparkle.

Part of me will always talk to that kid who was kicked, spat on, followed home and pushed in the gutter and had her clothes drawn on, and part of me will listen to her telling them, the kids that did that to her "thanks - you made me", but there's another part developing, one who doesn't need the mother of the past. In 2009 I cut the umbilicus.

I started blogging in May to present myself to the world as a writer. I felt like a bit of a fraud, after all I had nothing published. Looking back at how much I have written, however, I think I can call myself a writer now.

Nothing is as it was at the beginning of 2009 but for one thing; last year my resolution was to find an agent and get published. This year it's the same. You still up for a ride?

PS I can't swim and I failed my driving test six times! I can also hum the theme to Black Beauty whilst tongue galloping! - Bet you thought I'd forgotten - or maybe you had?
PPS - why did no one tell me I had missed the "a" out of beauty? Some critics you lot are! Ha! Changed it now. Must remember to spell check more!