New resource now available on my editing website

For the writers and would-be writers who follow this blog, I’ve just uploaded a new resource to my editing website–a list of helpful books to get you started. Just scroll to the bottom of the page to download the free PDF titled ‘Books about the writing process’.

Enjoy!

https://kendraolsoneditorial.com/resources/

 

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Shortlisted for the Tarbert Book Festival Writing Competition!

Recently I was very excited to learn that I’ve been shortlisted for the Tarbert Book Festival writing competition for my short story “Breathing Room”. Part of my prize for being shortlisted is free entry to the festival (the other part is a professional critique of my story). I’m looking forward to going up at the end of October to attend the festival and to do a little exploring of Tarbert itself (which is a lovely fishing village on the Kintyre Peninsula, and the gateway to the Inner Hebridean Islands of Islay and Jura).

On the Friday evening there will be a special reception and Festival launch at the Loch Fyne Gallery where the grand prize winner will be announced. Oh, and did I mention that the grand prize is a week’s course at Moniack Mhor? I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed! 🙂

http://www.tarbertbookfestival.org/congratulations/

(Please note that an earlier version of this post stated that Tarbert is in the Hebrides. While there is a Tarbert in the Hebrides, on the Isle of Harris, the Tarbert I’ll be visiting is on Loch Fyne.)

Interview with Marianne Wheelaghan, bestselling author and director of writingclasses.co.uk

Today I’m welcoming Marianne Wheelaghan to the blog. Marianne is the author of The Blue Suitcase and The Scottish Lady Detective series, which includes Food of Ghosts and The Shoeshine Killer. She’s also the director of the excellent writing school, writingclasses.co.uk, which I attended and whose alumni and teachers continue to be an incredible support to me.

Welcome, Marianne!

Marianne

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about your writing and books?

I write both crime and historic fiction and am interested in exploring themes to do with “home” and “place” as well as “identity’ in my writing.

Food of Ghosts and The Shoeshine Killer are my first two crime novels in the bestselling Scottish Lady Detective series and are inspired by the time I spent living in the Pacific.

My first non-crime novel is the bestselling The Blue Suitcase. It is inspired by letters and diaries I discovered after my mother’s death and tells the true life story of a Christian girl growing up in Silesia in Nazi Germany.

How did you begin writing?

I have six sisters and two brothers. Growing up with so many siblings meant it was sometimes a bit difficult to get heard. My way of standing out was to tell stories. I suppose I must have been reasonably good at it because telling stories quickly became “my thing”.  It was only as an adult I started to write certain stories down and quickly realised there was nothing I’d rather do. I enrolled on a Master’s degree in Creative Writing with Lancaster University to help hone my skills. This changed my life. Not only did I develop my writing skills, but I gained the confidence I needed to take my writing seriously.

The Blue Suitcase

Marianne’s debut novel

Your debut novel, The Blue Suitcase, was loosely based on your mother’s experience of living in Silesia at the time that Hitler came to power. Could you talk a little about how the idea for the novel came about?

Shortly after my mother’s death I was helping my father sort out her personal things. We discovered a scuffed, blue suitcase full of her letters, diary extracts, photos, old postcards and faded documents, written in German, my mother’s first language.

My father wanted me to translate the documents – I’d studied German so it was not as mad as it sounds. I was appalled at the idea, my mother had been a very private person. I thought it a terrible intrusion of her privacy to read her private stuff. But Dad wouldn’t give up. You see, my mother was from Germany but she never talked about her family life before coming to Scotland after the end of WW2. In fact, you could say my mother’s early life was a mystery – we weren’t even sure where she was from in Germany. Dad believed knowing what was written in the letters and documents would bring her closer to him. I resisted doing what he asked, until we discovered this photo of Mum’s family.

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Mum is the smiling girl at the front of the photo, next to the older man – I recognised her immediately. The other people in the photo are her family – who knew I had so many aunts and uncles? However, it was not seeing all the family that made me change my mind, it was, rather, seeing the picture of Hitler on the wall behind them: if you look carefully, you can see it above my grandfather’s head. I was totally shocked at the sight of it. My mum was a good, kind, thoughtful person and although I didn’t know her family, I couldn’t believe they were not also good people. So why was there a picture of Hitler, a war criminal, on their living room wall?

Around this time I was also very aware of a book that had been around since 1996 called Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen.  In it, he argues that the vast majority of ordinary Germans were “willing executioners” in the Holocaust. The book was scathed by historians, and in the words of Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, “it is totally wrong about everything and worthless”. However, seeing this photo of Hitler on my grandparent’s wall made me wonder if, after all, there could be some truth in Goldhagen’s theory. I decided to translate the documents to see if I could discover the truth once and for all.

The more I read about Mum’s life, the more shocked I was by what I discovered. When I finally finished translating everything I was both astounded and horrified and felt compelled to share my findings. Like thousands and thousands of ordinary Germans, my mother was not one of Hitler’s willing executioners, far from it. Like thousands and thousands of other ordinary Germans, she was a victim of Hitler’s terrible regime. As if that wasn’t enough, after the end of WW2, in peace time, my mother’s family, along with millions of other Silesian Germans, were forcibly expelled from their home. I knew what I had to do. It was time to set the record straight and the idea for The Blue Suitcase was born.

Food of Ghosts

Book 1 of the Scottish Lady Detective series

Your Scottish Lady Detective Series is set in the Pacific Islands, specifically Kiribati and Fiji. Why did you choose to set the novels in this region?

When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money. This meant we never went on holiday like others did and treats were for birthdays and Christmas only. But one thing we had all year round were books, hundreds of them, bought by my mum and dad from second-hand shops and jumble sales. They included, amongst many others, almost all of Agatha Christie’s 66 novels, RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Stacpole’s The Blue Lagoon. These books fuelled my imagination and shaped my dreams. When I wasn’t reading, I was travelling around the world in my head, voyaging to faraway, unspoiled places, populated by gentle, innocent people.

Then, one day I was lucky enough to get a job in some of the lesser developed countries in the Pacific, namely Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and later Fiji. I was going to live my dream. The reality, however, was very different from what I expected. Yes, there was unspoiled beauty and traditional culture and kind people, but there was also a dark side to life there. My paradisiacal countries were wonderfully different, but also wonderfully not so different.

It struck me that travelling was not so much about going to new places, as seeing our surroundings with a fresh perspective, and seeing it all: the good and the bad and the ugly. As Marcel Proust once said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in looking with new eyes.”  As a writer, I wanted to share this lightbulb moment with others and I did what writers do, I wrote a book, or two. Why a crime novel? I believe a good crime novel can tell us as much about the darker side of society as any literary novel. Plus, I have many fond memories of reading an Agatha Christie or Margery Allingham into the wee hours, riveted until I found out who had done it. I wanted to recreate that feeling of suspense in my readers. So Detective Sergeant Louisa Townsend, AKA The Scottish Lady Detective, was born. Maybe not surprisingly, DS Townsend is a kind of modern day Miss Marple: a tad more gritty than cosy, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly but can also be kind, who is shrewd and intelligent but who can also make mistakes and even behave downright silly sometimes, and who has a dark side of her very own.

The Shoeshine Killer

Book 2 of the Scottish Lady Detective series

What challenges did you encounter when writing your novels and how did you overcome these?

In the Scottish Lady Detective novels, one of the biggest challenges is to bring totally alien peoples and places to life for the reader, and in doing so make the unfamiliar, familiar. I hope to achieve this by using very specific sensory details in the writing, so the reader really sees the magnolia trees, hears the traffic, tastes the overripe mangoes, smells the earthy market smells, and feels the giant drops of warm rain on their skin.

The biggest challenge when writing The Blue Suitcase was distancing myself emotionally from writing about my mother. I struggled with this until I had an epiphany: I would create a fictional family, very much like the true family but not exactly the same. This worked. Much of what happened to my fictional family happened to my real family, but some stuff didn’t, although it could have. Certainly, everything that happened in the novel is based on true historic fact: if didn’t happen to my family, it happened to someone else’s family.

Could you tell readers about writingclasses.co.uk? How did the school come about?

I decided to set up writingclasses for two reasons: I love writing and wanted to share my passion for it with others. I also believe to teach a skill is an honourable way to earn a living and in the words of Hanif Kureishi “I felt if I knew something, I should pass it on.”  

How are classes taught?

Today, with massive online open learning courses (MOOCs) becoming a part of everyday life, it is difficult to understand how in 2002 online courses of any kind, but especially short courses, were unusual.  As a lover of online learning, I was determined that writingclasses should offer short online creative writing courses, the kind of courses that I would have loved to have attended when I began writing. In my opinion online learning offers a flexibility that face-to-face classes simply cannot. Students can join in at a time that suits them, there is no being early or late and no need to find childminders/babysitters. For those of us juggling work and family life, learning online gives us access to courses that would have otherwise been denied us.

One of my favourite elements of the courses was that tutors read and commented on all assignments (quite often in other courses I’ve taken, tutors leave the critiquing primarily to students and, while peer review is always helpful, it’s the expert guidance of a more experienced writer which is most sought after). Why did you decide on this model?

 As all beginner writers know, one of the hardest things to find is an experienced writer who will read your work and give you honest, constructive feedback. This is why attending a course can be so helpful. However, when I was a beginner writer taking short courses, a tutor might give feedback on one piece of writing, possibly two, but never three. In my opinion this is simply not enough. We writers learn by our mistakes. It follows that the more we write, the more mistakes we can potentially make and the greater the opportunity we have to develop our writing skills, always assuming we have an expert at hand to help us recognise what the mistakes are. This is why on all writingclasses courses students are encouraged to write something new every week, why  “making mistakes” is obligatory, and why our experienced tutor-writers give helpful constructive feedback on every piece of creative writing the student submits during the course.

Several of your students have gone on to become published writers, myself included. Could you talk a bit about your students and why you think it is that so many have been successful in their writing?

A little bit of encouragement and feedback can go a long way but, ultimately, the students who succeed are, very much like yourself, the ones who do not give up.  Determination and staying power are often as important as ability and creativity.

And, finally, are you working on anything at the moment?

I am writing two books – the follow on from The Blue Suitcase and a third Scottish Lady Detective novel set in Edinburgh.  I’m not sure if it is a good idea to write two books at the same time. Time will tell ;-).   

Thanks so much for coming by to talk with us about your writing and teaching!

Readers can learn more about Marianne and her writing by visiting her website: http://www.mariannewheelaghan.co.uk/

Check out the courses on offer at her writing school: http://www.writingclasses.co.uk/courses.html  (Tip: The next semester starts on the 3rd October so do sign up early to guarantee your place– they’re great value!)

Follow her on Twitter: @MWheelaghan and @solovewriting

Buy her books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Marianne-Wheelaghan/e/B004AQKRXA/

https://www.amazon.com/Marianne-Wheelaghan/e/B004AQKRXA/

 

 

 

Interview with Marie Campbell about her debut novel Baby

Cover

I’m delighted to be welcoming the talented author Marie Campbell to the blog today to talk about her debut novel, Baby, which was released by The Conrad Press on 13 July 2016. In addition to being a writer, Marie is also a trained proofreader and a fellow alumni of writingclasses.co.uk. As readers may recall, I recently reviewed Marie’s novel for Lothian Life. If you’ve not yet read my review you can do so here: http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2016/08/baby/ 

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photo taken by Karen McGowran Photography

Welcome, Marie!

Firstly, could you please tell readers about Baby?

Thanks so much for having me, Kendra. My book, Baby, is a psychological thriller, based in Edinburgh, where I live. In it, Michael Stanton, goes to work one day and doesn’t come back. Everyone thinks his pregnant girlfriend, Jill, should accept that he has left her. But she just won’t believe that Michael would walk away from her and their unborn child. Increasingly desperate and alone, she is determined to find him.

What Jill doesn’t know is that Michael’s beautiful ex, Anna, wants him back, and won’t take no for an answer. And it isn’t just him she wants…

Where did the idea for the novel come from?

I like to explore the dark side of human nature, and look at the lengths seemingly-ordinary people will go to get what they want. Although this is my first book, I have also written many short stories, and in the main, they tend to have a dark side. I like to think ‘What would happen if…’. In the case of Baby, I thought about what would happen if someone believed they had an absolute right to something, and what they were willing to do to achieve that. I wanted to include strong, believable characters, and also to explore the flaws that exist within them.

The premise of the story is quite frightening. Being a mother yourself, did you find any of the scenes difficult to write?

To some extent, yes, but I find that I do tend to write about things that scare me, perhaps as a way of confronting them. Being a mother is a massive part of who I am, and I hope that I was able to convey the genuine, deep emotion that comes from that.

The novel is written in such a way that I couldn’t help but turn the page every time I got to the end of a chapter–I literally read the novel in two sittings, which is unusual for me. Was this purposeful on your part and, if so, how did you achieve this?

That’s amazing to hear – thanks so much. That’s what I hoped for and I’m really pleased that you think I’ve been able to achieve it. I think telling the story from the alternative viewpoints of Michael and Jill helped to maintain the momentum – hopefully readers want to read on because they want to find out what is in store next for each of them. They are both experiencing very different, but often equally traumatic, things at the same time.

Michael is still attracted to Anna, though he tries his best to hide it. There are many points in the novel where I found myself wondering why he didn’t try harder to escape. At times it almost felt like Michael didn’t mind having been abducted—as though he were suffering from some form of Stockholm syndrome. Why did you decide to write the story in this way?

Although Michael is utterly committed to Jill, he does, as you say, still find Anna attractive. I wanted to get across the fact that he is entranced by her, and that, throughout his captivity, he becomes dependant on her, almost to the point where he is so confused that he thinks maybe he doesn’t want to leave. I added the sexual elements to intensify his confusion and desire. Anna is a complicated, dangerous, but strong character, and I wanted her to be in control of the situation and to maintain her belief that what she was doing was the absolute right thing for all of them.

Could you talk us through the writing of the novel?

Five years ago, after having a baby, taking a career break from the Civil Service and moving house, I wondered what I could do to fill up all of the free time (!) I had. Writing was something I have always had a passion for, and I had dabbled with short stories, diaries and journals for years. So I decided to embark on an online writing course, as you mentioned above, with writingclasses.co.uk. Another course followed, by which time I had quite a portfolio of short stories. I started entering competitions and was even successful in a few of them. But what I really wanted to do was write a novel. Something that maybe someone would actually want to buy and read. A novel-writing course followed. As you know yourself, this was serious stuff – posting large chunks of previously private work and awaiting the critique of fellow students and tutors.

I loved doing the course though, and by the end of it I had the makings of a book – only around 40,000 words, but it was a start. My tutor from the course became a very good friend, and she supported and encouraged me to complete what I’d started.

By March 2014, I had a version of my book that I was happy with. And then all I had to do was find an agent. And then a publisher.

How did the novel come to be published?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, the first step was finding an agent – I knew that traditional publishing didn’t lend itself to unsolicited manuscripts from unknown authors. I armed myself with a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and began working my way through the list of agents. Some wanted an email, some wanted a letter. Some wanted a 100-word synopsis; others 300 words. Three chapters or fifty pages – I gave them what they asked for and waited for a reply. And some of them did respond. But it took six long months before James Essinger of Canterbury Literary Agency agreed to represent me. And then we began the process of tweaking, deleting and adding new chapters.

When it was finally as good as we both thought it could be (and very different from that rough first draft), James started the submission process. Some publishers responded, offering feedback and comments but saying they weren’t taking new authors. Others asked for more, and said they wanted to read it again, but it took a very long time, and many changes and amendments, before The Conrad Press, a publishing company based in Canterbury, Kent, took on my book.

What advice would you give to a new writer who is just starting out?

I’m no expert, but I would say just go ahead and write. Writing every day, or as much as possible anyway, is key to honing your craft. There have been many periods of time in my life when, for various reasons, I haven’t written, but I know now that practice is hugely important. I also remember my English teacher telling me not to ‘hide my light under a bushel’ when I wasn’t keen to read out my work in class. It’s taken me many years to heed this advice and be less secretive about what I do.

Doing courses has also been a massive help for me. And joining online forums and groups, where readers, writers and bloggers can connect and talk about all things books. Joining a local writing group is another great idea. Oh, and never leave the house without a notebook and pen (hard back A5 and blue rollerball for me, or, on the rare occasions I forget, a Minions notepad and broken crayon from the depths of my handbag…). You never know when inspiration might strike.

Do you plan to write any more novels?

It’s my intention to always write novels, from now on. I’ve started work on my second, another psychological thriller, this time exploring revenge.

Finally, how can readers keep in touch?

In lots of ways. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed doing is setting up a newsletter, which lots of people have signed up for. Receiving replies to these has been a great way of connecting with readers, and I’ve taken on board one of the suggestions I received via this route, in that my next book will be set in the North East of England, where I was born and lived before moving to Edinburgh eight years ago. If anyone is interested in signing up for the newsletter, they can do so here. Baby also has a Facebook page, Baby – Marie Campbell, and you can also find me on Twitter  @mariecampbell72. I also have a website Marie Campbell – Writer.

Thank you for the interview and a big congratulations on the publication of Baby!

Thanks for having me Kendra, it was an absolute pleasure.

Readers can obtain Baby from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baby-Marie-Campbell-ebook/dp/B01IEB920K

Baby can also be purchased directly from The Conrad Press website: http://theconradpress.com/our-books/

The print copy is also now available on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baby-Marie-Campbell/dp/1783019646/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470301480&sr=1-3&keywords=baby+marie+campbell

 

 

Launch of new developmental editing service!

Announcing the launch of my new developmental editing service for writers of fiction and creative non-fiction. Are you a writer who needs a bit of extra help with your manuscript? Or are you simply curious as to what developmental editing involves? You can learn more about developmental editing, and how it can help your writing, by clicking here:  https://kendraolson.wordpress.com/development-editing-service/

Literary Laryngitis by Poppy Peacock

Today I’m pleased to welcome fellow writer and blogger, Poppy Peacock, to the blog.

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I have a confession. Well, two actually… I didn’t spend my, ok arguably misspent, youth with my nose in a book. I did read, from rib-tickling escapism to rousing expeditions but sporadically rather than emphatically.

I haven’t yearned to write since being knee-high either, as many writers often profess; I was more of a talker. Writing was mostly formal and confined to official documentation & business reports; any creativity only leaked into odd letters & emails to far flung friends and relatives in a voice very different to my work one. When writing about my news & happenings I tended to write the way I spoke – strong regional accent laced with local dialect & idiolect of the North East of England – and definitely NOT always grammatically correct.

Then sudden, severe illness all but silenced me in 2004. For cognitive rehabilitation – and to keep the gibbering-n-twitching at bay– I began studying with the Open University. Initially I stayed in my medical-background comfort zone; then I ventured into Literature & Creative WritingReader, I was hooked!

During my first three years with the OU I did 3 Creative Writing modules: A174 Start Writing Fiction, A215 Creative Writing and A363 Advanced Creative Writing and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

My creative voice was very much being formed from extending my correspondent, not professional, habits. I certainly got the best feedback – and marks – when I used my native tongue, rather than a strained RP narrative, and characters with familiar social backgrounds.

Here’s an example of one of the first pieces of life writing I fictionalised for an activity:

Chapter 1 : I am born

            ‘Dimples to die for’ Nana S sighs wistfully.

            ‘Fat as butter, just like her mother’ spits Nana P; Dad’s mam obviously.

            ‘Missed nowt’ chuckles me Dad.

            ‘Humph, I wouldn’t know’ huffs me Mam.

It is with these comments, rung out religiously with the habitual presentation of the one – and only – faded Polaroid,  I can deduce how I appeared on my big outing; and according to old Mrs Edna next door – neighbour and fiercesome midwife – did them all out of a good Co-op Ham Tea. Her prediction of my demise was premature.

By all accounts I certainly wasn’t; I kept them waiting just short of three weeks. After days of Mam writhing and kneading that starchy bed, my best effort produced a solitary foot; as if dipping in a toe and deciding against any further venture. The painful recollection never dims with time. She still describes the inhumane suffering, heels and palms rubbed raw, the howling, until they finally conceded to a quick abdominal exit. Rudely levered and yanked from my cocoon the forceps bruised a nerve so for the first few days I slept with one eye open.

‘A flock of hair, rich like any coal face’ crows me Dad.

‘Like the wether of a prize ewe’ simpers Nana S.

‘Aye, but a black sheep, nevertheless’ prickles Nana P.

But like Mam said – she never saw that. Wrung through and spent, she was left limp in that bed whilst I was whisked off to another bubble four floors up.

‘That’s why we never bonded,’ Mam’s favourite retort; aired at every disagreeance.

I got a great response and encouragement to continue in my own everyday voice, although it wasn’t always grammatically correct and I used certain colloquial words, odd sentence structure and even made-up words: ‘disagreeance’ caused a mini-storm! Many agreed it sounded natural but some couldn’t get past it should technically be disagreement.

At the end of Year 2 I adapted and grew this piece into a complete short story (Frontline, which you can read over on Poppy’s blog:  http://poppypeacockpens.com/) keeping the narrative very much in my natural regional tongue. After receiving a distinction, I was encouraged to submit it to a competition – I chose The Yellow Room: a women’s literary magazine edited by Jo Derrick – and was chuffed to bits to get 3rd place and see it published!

I also submitted two other short stories and got one win and a highly commended… the first published online.

During the Advanced Course in Year Three, my strengths were again nurturing my natural voice while learning about various other media forms too – such as short films & radio plays – I knew then I really wanted to persevere with my own writing.

Now came the crunch bit… although I only joined the OU for cognitive physio I was loving the learning environment and passing assignments & modules was a great boost to my morale and self-esteem; being stuck at home due to ill health is very isolating and through studying I was meeting like-minded folk online who have become great friends (though I’ve still yet to actually meet most of them).

At 17, I dropped out of school during ‘A’ levels to nurse where there was very minimal classroom time; at the very least 80% of the time was spent working 45hr weeks in placement. With the OU the new world of academia was appealing and I succumbed to further literature modules – to attain a degree – but mainly believing it would enhance my appreciation & aptitude for writing.

And I have no doubt it has helped; through these modules I’ve learned so much about different authors through the ages for many genres, styles of writing and narrative techniques. But my creative writing dwindled due to the demands of studying and writing critical essays; by the time I finished Uni in 2013, I hadn’t written any fresh stories for quite a while.

By the end of that summer I missed the routine of study – having M.E. I have to try and do some kind of cognitive activity every day to battle brain fog. Interested in possibly pursuing a career in writing/editing etc I wanted to explore the industry and a friend suggested Twitter… WOW! What a fantastic find!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these last 18 months; Twitter is a brilliant resource for meeting so many good folk and being introduced to so many good books I never really appreciated existed, but it can be very time consuming, not to mention expensive! My book buying habit has excelled!

As for my own writing, I keep starting new pieces and rehashing old pieces but really struggle to get anything I’m truly happy with. I’m finding it hard not to be influenced by all this reading and question what my own voice is actually like now. It’s definitely a case of my academic voice – sitting on my shoulder like some stuffy old crow – nagging and pecking at my creative voice; the latter being far more laid back and colloquial but definitely muffled. Spookily, as Kendra and I talked about this, there was an excellent post from Tara Guha on the very subject:

http://lindasbookbag.com/2015/10/15/guest-post-by-tara-guha-author-of-untouchable-things/

I certainly don’t want to stop reading but I do want to find the right balance so I can write again, comfortably! So, I set up my blog poppypeacockpens.com to record and review what I’m reading, document what I’m writing and best of all liaise with like-minded folk for companionship; it feels like the perfect way to strike the right balance between developing academic skills but most importantly, nurture the return of my natural storytelling voice.

Thank you, Poppy, for a fascinating post. And I have to admit I found it very interesting that you don’t come from a writing background–I would never have guessed it from reading your work. 

You can find out more about Poppy by reading/following her blog: http://poppypeacockpens.com/ 

She is also on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

Why write?

Any article, magazine, book or website on the craft of writing will tell you what a difficult state the publishing industry is in. While writers now have the option of self-publishing, and publishing in electronic formats, we are worker harder than ever before and and for less money (and prestige).

These days only the biggest names in the publishing industry make enough money to live on, and while some authors are respected, just as many aren’t even noticed. The phrase ‘everyone has a novel in them’ both democratizes the writing community while also making it harder to get your voice heard. The idea being that it is easier now than ever before to publish, but the overall quality of writing is also lower.

But is this true? These days writers have to invest far more of their time, energy, skills and—yes—money to see results. Mentoring happens in creative writing classes and through editorial/mentoring services which most writers pay for with their own funds, because it’s important to them to increase their skill set. Of course, the most valuable contribution any writer can make to their career is to put in the time, working on their own stories and pieces as much as possible, experimenting, editing and discovering what works best for them. And reading widely and insatiably, of course.

CIMG0252 bookshelves from morguefile

credit: morguefile

I remember being obsessed with J.D. Salinger when I was a teenager, not just The Catcher in the Rye but also his other books: Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories etc. When I finally got my hands on his biography by Ian Hamilton, aptly titled: In Search of JD Salinger, I quickly devoured it. As most people know, Salinger was a recluse who lived an isolated life in Cornish, New Hampshire. After his initial success, he withdrew from the public eye entirely, but continued writing (though he stopped publishing). Only since his death have his unpublished manuscripts been brought to the attention of the public.

These days, you couldn’t be a writer and do that. Well, not one that anyone would take any interest in anyway.

An author platform and social media presence is crucial, and promotion of your work will often come through these channels. This is not easy to embrace, especially as many writers (like myself) are introverts, perhaps shy about participating in the necessary self-promotion and marketing required to publish today.

So, to come back to the initial question, why write? When I look at the question logically, I can’t find an answer. But, I know that writing is important to me. Through writing I can communicate—or attempt to convey—how I see the world, the people who live in it and what I think is important to take note of. I can attempt to tell the stories I want to read/hear, which I think people should pay attention to. Will these stories ever be read or published? Maybe. Maybe not. But I still have to take the chance in telling them, because if they aren’t written down and created in the first place they will never exist.

Of course, now that my first novel, The Forest King’s Daughter, has been published, this may increase my chances for having my second novel published. But even if it had never been published, I would continue to write, for myself, because the act of discovering and telling stories is part of who I am.

What about you, do you write for yourself, or primarily with the aim of publication? What is your experience of the publishing world today? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below.

Writing jobs

Okay, so I know by now that if you’re in this ‘business’ of creative writing, it is highly unlikely to be for monetary reasons. Basically, if you’re not in it for the love of writing, you may as well not be in it at all. But, that’s not to say there aren’t opportunities to be had—jobwise—from writing, however contradictory that may sound. And as my Creative Writing MLitt at Glasgow University will finish in August, I just might look for some of these.

For example, I know that some people go on to teach creative writing in the community. This is how I came back to writing, through online community writing classes at writingclasses.co.uk. The personal, one-on-one attention gave me the confidence and skills I needed to keep going. This is something I’ve always valued, and which I believe is very important for a writer’s development. Many writers are introverts and so it may be difficult to take that first step towards sharing your work with others. Having people whom you trust read your work can be a tremendous help.

At the same time, it’s a huge responsibility. What if a writer you’re trying to help blames you for their work not being what they’d like it to be? What if you accidentally damage a new writer’s very fragile ego? I know how important that first round of comments can be, I’ve kept every comment I’ve received from teachers in a special folder on my computer.

Others may be lucky enough to land a job teaching creative writing at a university. In this case, it’s likely that your students will be more experienced, if not in creative writing then at least in an academic setting. That is not to say that they don’t also have fragile egos. In my MLitt programme at Glasgow University we held in depth discussions on all aspects of a piece of writing. It felt incredibly intimidating at first, especially if it was your writing which was up for discussion, but having so many people read and respond to your work could also be mind-bogglingly amazing. And it certainly left a lot for the writer to take away and work with.

I also know writers who have gone on to start their own business as a proof-reader/copyeditor and/or mentor to new writers. I can imagine this would be an enjoyable way to use your skills, especially as it’s likely that this could be done from home, in the comfort of your own living room, and you could pick and choose your clients. However, the downside (I suppose) would be having to advertise and seek out clients, as well as having to balance the independent business side of things. Although, perhaps, if you’re an independent author this is something you’re already used to. And being able to fit in a bit of proofing on the side could temporarily boost your income if done alongside other paid work.

Finally, there are those lucky enough to land a job at a publishing house, magazine or perhaps as a literary agent. These writers are lucky indeed as (one would assume) these jobs come with a regular salary, paid time off and a certain prestige in the literary world. Of course, I know that some of these jobs require a degree in publishing (as opposed to a Creative Writing degree). Lucky for me the MLitt at Glasgow University covers both the publishing side as well as creative writing.

As part of the Editorial and Publishing side of the course we had guest speakers from publishing houses, literary magazines and agents, all of whom were open to questions and very honest about what their careers involved.

However, many writers balance their non-writing day jobs alongside their writing. I understand the benefits of this as it allows time away from the writing world, which lets you return to your writing fresh, and also allows for more security perhaps than a writing related job might offer.

So, what will I do after I finish my Creative Writing MLitt? The short answer is to keep writing, keep blogging and continue trying to keep up with the literary world. However, I’ll also keep my eyes and ears open to any creative writing related jobs that may become available and put myself forward for them as and when they do. I’ll also look for any teaching opportunities that may become available, even if they are on a voluntary basis to start with. In short I will scout out any opportunities which may be lurking and try anything I can in an attempt to find a niche in a writing related field, because I love writing and would love to work in a related field. 🙂

Have I missed any writing related jobs? If so, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Do you work in a writing related field? If so, what are the benefits of your role? Does teaching writing give you more of an eye when it comes to your own writing? If you work as a mentor do you find the balance you strike between helping other writers and your own work to be beneficial to you creatively? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Until next time!

Immersing yourself in your story world

Do you write fiction? If so, you’ll know how important it is to understand the world your characters live in. This might be the same world that we live in today, or it might not be. Even if your story takes place in modern day Britain it’s likely that your characters belong to a specific cultural grouping, and have tastes which differ from other peoples. For example, you’ll need to know where they grew up, what they like/dislike, what makes them tick and what kinds of clothes they wear. So, how do you go about finding all of this out? Do you sit and make a list of their traits? Do you draw (or paint) their portrait? Or maybe you see a photograph of someone and build up your characters from there.

IMG_2871 man drawing from morguefile

However you go about it, it’s important to get the details right. Without them, a character not only won’t make sense, but, worse, they won’t feel real to the reader. That’s not to say that a character shouldn’t have quirks, which at first glance may look like inconsistent character traits, because they should. Characters with inner contradictions, with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides to them are much truer to life—more three dimensional—than a character who is one-sided.

But how do you really get into the mind set of your characters? And do you do this only for your main character, or for all of your characters?

For my novel, The Forest King’s Daughter, I immersed myself in the world my characters lived in. As this was 19th century rural Sweden, this was not exactly easy to do. I listened to Swedish folk music (or folkmusik) to set the scene for my characters, looked at old clothes both online and in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, viewed paintings of rural Sweden done by Carl Larsson in the National Art Library and learned some Swedish cooking and baking in order to surround myself with the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that my characters would have known. It was great fun, and tasty too. 🙂

Most of all, it allowed me to see the world as my characters would have done, and this helped me to build a better picture of them, which grew and changed over time.

Here’s a photo of some Swedish peasants wearing traditional folk dress from Dalarna. I just love the colourful aprons the women wore.

By Louise Hagberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Louise Hagberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And a few of my Scandinavian cookbooks, plus my lovely straw reindeer I purchased at the Swedish Christmas market here in London a couple of years back.

P1050778

Here’s a video of a musical duo playing on traditional Swedish nyckelharpas at Skansen on Easter, from YouTube. Listening to songs such as these helped me to transport myself to the Swedish countryside, and later to the Gothenburg dockside where emigrants prepared to depart for America. Many folk singers and musicians helped to entertain the departing emigrants to keep their minds off the perilous journey which lay ahead.

So, how about you? What kinds of things have you done to better understand your characters? I’d love to hear about them so please leave a comment below.