Edith Sitwell – innovative writer, forgotten woman poet, fascinating individual – died fifty years ago this year. To celebrate her work, the Poetry Society has launched a poetry challenge for young people. Please promote through your networks: http://www.youngpoetsnetwork.org.uk/2014/03/24/edith-sitwell-eccentricity-and-sounds-new-writing-challenge/
Having spent the weekend with two dear friends enjoying good conversation and the delights of Manchester, including Joana Vasconcelos textile work at the Art Gallery (see photo), I return to the realities of being a writer.
I have started submitting The Art of the Imperfect, the first novel in my crime series, to literary agents. I have had my first rejection. I have tried to change this to ‘I have had my first decline’, I’m not sure it helps. Sitting in the Spring sunshine today I watched two kayakers tackling the surf in North Bay. At first it seemed unlikely they would get out into the water as they were battered by the waves. With persistence, however, they made it. Non-writers assume getting a literary agent/publisher is like this. With persistence I can battle against the tide and reach someone who will be interested in publishing my novel.
This is not true. I used to think finding a literary agent/publisher was 50% talent-inspiration-hard work and 50% luck. I now believe it is 85% luck. I could approach 1001 lit agents/publishers and still not get taken on, whatever the worth of my work might be. The fact that Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series has only got on TV because a book was picked up in an Oxfam store by a producer just about says it all.
However, the metaphor provided by those kayakers does have some resonance. The only thing I can effect by determination and skill is the quality of my writing. I, therefore, pledge myself (once again) to my growth as a writer and will continue to paddle out into the ocean of inspiration which is open to me.
I’ve been re-writing the draft of The Art of the Imperfect, the first novel in my crime series. It’s meant putting on a different hat, an editor’s hat. What I realised while talking to a writer-friend recently is that this is when my internal critic kicks in. I’m no longer playing, writing for my eyes only, people might actually read this stuff.
It’s revealing. This is fiction, it is still revealing. When writing a story, I rely on my own experience, on research (including listening to others and trying to put myself in their shoes) and imagination. However, the latter won’t work without the former two. I don’t believe writers who say their stories solely come from their imagination. For a piece to be engaging to readers, the emotional truth of it must come from the writer.
So these novels – the emotional truth of them at least – come from me, and I am putting it out there for others to do what they will with it. That is scary. And yet I continue.
Don’t forget Scarborough Flare tickets on sale this week: www.scarboroughflare.co.uk For writers and readers there’s much to enjoy.
Counting down now to Scarborough Flare – www.scarboroughflare.co.uk – 24th-27th April, an exciting and eclectic mix of literary events, talks, performances and workshops. I love the energy when lovers of words get together and let their imagination soar. Come along and be inspired. Tickets on sale from the Thursday.
I was lucky enough to facilitate a writing workshop for the Stephen Joseph Outreach Festival on Saturday with my great friend Felix Hodcroft. We had a lovely group of six and took as our inspiration ‘Still Falls the Rain’ by Edith Sitwell and ‘A Drone Scans the Wreckage’ by Margaret Atwood. The discussions were lively and the writing done vibrant and engaging. It is surprising how much good work can be created in just five hours.
Hopefully some of the writing will appear on the SJT Outreach website soon: https://www.sjt.uk.com/OutReach.
The next event in the Edith Sitwell Festival 2014, Scarborough, will be ‘Taking Tea with Edith Sitwell’ on the 26th April, an hour’s performance of poetry and vignettes of Edith’s life served with tea and cakes. Cost £3. Tickets available from the 13th of March, Tues-Fri, 10am-4pm, from the Scarborough Flare Office (Dave Lewis), Woodend, The Crescent, Scarborough, 01723 384523. www.ScarboroughFlare.co.uk.
Meanwhile, here is my poem from Saturday –
Staring into the parched landscape
hope is scarce.
It is easily lost,
slides down the back of the sofa
and we are left
with empty hands,
raw fingered from trying to claw it back.
Hope is easily lost,
and I’m not just talking
the feel good factor.
Real hope is slippery.
Real hope —
that secretive worm —
is an on-going choice,
if we don’t want to lose it.