Category: Writing

The rules of speculative fiction

Photo: Taiyo FUJII I haven't written a blog post for the last couple of weeks - I've had my head down responding to line edits on the manuscript of Baby X. Overall it's been an affirming process - I like it when my editor says ‘Alex wouldn't say that’: it encourages me that the character's voices are real enough for her to hear when I slip up. I’m discovering that I use a lot of commas, more than are strictly necessary. It turns out that just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about punctuation there’s this whole other level (like working your way up to a black belt in karate, and suddenly discovering the Dan system.) And there's the (occasional) joy of seeing an entire page without any changes or comments, and breathing a sigh of relief. My editor is also asking questions about the text, reminding me that just because something seems obvious to me,…

5 things that got my attention this week

1. This week I read an article by David Cain on How to Become a Luckier Person Overnight. We've been hearing for a while now that consciously practising gratitude makes us not only nicer but happier too, and David suggests a radical approach - can we be grateful even for our misfortunes? And if we can, what does this mean for our happiness, and even our luck? I've been thinking about his approach this week, wondering about applying it to my own thinking. At times, I've felt a bit fraudulent - all my woes, it turns out, are so tiny, and insignificant - husband late home to take over with the children, a frustrating hold up on a project at work - and this leaves me realising how blessed I am. Which I suppose, after all, is the point.   2. Meanwhile, I'm continuing to follow E is for Erin's honest and gently thought-provoking blog. Erin is…

Resolutions (and a writing to-do list) for 2016

On top of all the usual resolutions about being more present, less judgemental, and meditating every day, here are some resolutions for my writing life in 2016.   1. Work through the teetering pile of books beside my bed, books people gave me or told me I absolutely must read in 2015 and I never managed to, plus those I got super-excited about reading, but didn't. Oh, plus the twenty or so books I got for Christmas and for my birthday... At the moment I'm reading 'Sweet Caress' by William Boyd. Up next, I'm very excited to read 'Starlings' by Erinna Mettler and 'My Brilliant Friend' by Elena Ferrante.   2. And in the likely event I acquire a whole load of new books this year, I'm committing to buying them from independent bookshops or direct from the publishers rather than from certain (ahem) online suppliers which squeeze the margins of independent publishers…

Mysterious letters start arriving…

A few weeks ago a letter came to the house, addressed to my kids. It was in a plain envelope, with the address typed onto the front.  Local postmark. Inside, it read: 'base 4757 17 september 2037 dear dexter and euan i almost cant beleeve this is going to work. but its worth a shot. theres a masheen here. its big and brown with a metal keybord and lether straps. we arent allowed to use it. the grown ups have there own plans for it. maybe there worried were going to brake it. i type into the masheen and it sends a mesij into the past. about twenty years into the past, if ive set it up rite. if this works the way they say it does, the mesij will bounce off a receever stashun in your time, and if thats working it will make a print out and mail…

Loud Literature!

Last Thursday I was very privileged to join children's authors Charlotte Raby, Sheila Rance, and Helen Baugh at the Loud Literature event as part of this year's Hurst Festival. Earlier this summer, a group of local children attended a creative writing workshop at The Mint House led by Belle Amatt, who was also our compere for the evening. Having had time to finish and edit over the summer, the children read their stories and poems aloud in front of an audience, and the authors gave feedback to each of the young writers individually.  It wasn't difficult to be enthusiastic and encouraging because the work was so diverse, imaginative, and passionate. The children's writing included farmyard action, fantastical tales of sharks and monsters, moving descriptions of loved ones, thoughtful poems, and even philosophical meditations on the nature of creativity. The authors also gave readings from their work, either published or in progress.  I read a section of my novel Seal…

Reading aloud (or which circle of editing hell is this now…?)

I've tackled what I *hope* is the last set of structural edits to Baby X, that is, changes to the mechanics of the story, rather than the writing itself. I'll only know for sure once my editor has taken a look. But before I hand in the manuscript, I've made myself do what I've been meaning to do for ages: read the whole dang thing aloud. I know it's the right thing.  If I'm going to let this book leave the nest, I want it to be in the best shape possible. Though I have to admit I wasn't super enthusiastic about the sore throat reading 276 pages out loud might give me, let alone listening back to my own voice (*cringe*). For a while it felt like my resistance was rational - I was still getting the story straight.  Why polish darlings you might ultimately have to murder? That's no longer a valid excuse, but it's hard to…

Criticism as crime scene

Photo: Tony Webster Even when criticism comes from someone you trust and respect, someone who has your best interests as a writer at heart, and who's guided you well in the past, it's hard not to have an immediate, emotional reaction. You've worked hard on creating something, and now it's been trashed and trampled.  The dismay and 'Oh God, what now?!' is reminiscent of discovering a burglary. Of course, the critic is not a criminal. She's doing her job, she's helping you make the book better. But still. I've recently been reading The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. Levitin, a neuroscientist, explains the human brain is hardwired to organise information - the world around us - into categories. By harnessing our innate powers of categorisation, and externalising the complex contents of our brains (into systems, lists, notebooks, spreadsheets) we free ourselves up to do the important work of creative thinking: making connections, generating…

10 things I learned at BritMums Live 2015

1.  The nice people at the tables in The Hub give you free stuff.  Salsa, jewellery, memory sticks, wine, children's books. Shed-loads of pens. All you have to do is ask nicely. 2. According to someone in the know, the word 'vart' is a portmanteau term combining the words 'vagina' and 'fart'.  Use it wisely.  Although I love learning new words, I still personally prefer the term 'queef'. (Which just goes to show how refined and ladylike I am.) 3. Not everyone here is blogging about nappies.  Sisters (and the occasional bro) are blogging about the NHS, body image, culture, maternity experiences, learning disabilities, food, book promotion, local politics, international development, crafting, and much, much more. 4. Not everyone here is under 30.  Post40bloggers.com is a magazine for the quality older blogger (or discerning reader of any age). 5. If you ignore a problem for long enough, sometimes it goes away all by itself.  Apparently I no…

Commandments for writing

I was intrigued by Henry Miller's 11 Commandments as posted recently by the Writers' Circle.  What I like most about these commandments is that they are so personal - Miller knows his own weaknesses. I also like that as well as hard graft Miller instructs himself to enjoy periods of partying.  It's important to 'Keep human!' and 'drink if you want to' - well, I say 'Yay!' to that. So, inspired by Miller, I've produced my own list of commandments, opting for the more conventional 10. In each of these, the 'you' I'm speaking to is me, of course; these aren't intended to apply to anyone else.  I've been carrying these around for a while, but I enjoyed writing them down, and recognising that my inner finger-wagger is somewhat stern but also kind (and very possibly voiced by Julie Andrews). I'd be interested to hear about own personal commandments.  Do they overlap with mine?  Do…

So, what next…?

So I've handed in the rewrite of Baby X to my publisher, and it's too early to expect comments back yet.   I'm thinking about what to do next. I've got two other 'completed' manuscripts I want to get out there, a middle-grade novel called Seal Skin and a YA novel called He, She, It. By 'completed' I mean that in each case I got to the end of a first draft, then I went back to the beginning and edited (draft 2).  Then I got a few trusted reader and writer friends to read the manuscript, and waited for their comments.  Then I let the comments sink in for a while, and only then, on the basis of these comments and further thoughts I'd had in the meantime, I edited again (draft 3). Then I sent each book out to agents.  Each book got some positive attention, but no one took the punt on signing me. Which means that at the moment I…