Tag Archives: rejection

Experimentation in Writing

I have begun my read through of novel #5, No Justice. I put it away several months ago, so I am coming to it with a relatively clear head, in preparation for re-writing. I had set out to write a straight forward crime novel, but it seems I am incapable of straight forward. I break several ‘cardinal’ rules: there are many characters; there are many narrative voices; there are ‘poetic’ descriptions; we’re several chapters in and there is no crime to investigate.

On the other hand I enjoy writing (and reading) it, and since I may be its sole reader, isn’t that the point?

I admire writers and artists who break the rules and stick to their own creative vision. We would not have most contemporary prose without Virginia Woolf’s ‘stream of consciousness’ approach. Yet she had to self-publish as she could not cope with the rejections she got from commercial publishers. She and her husband Leonard set up the Hogarth Press to publish her novels in 1917 with a hand-press in their dining room. The hand-press cost them £19, the equivalent of £900 today. Hogarth press is now part of Random House publishing. Ironically perhaps, RH is one of the big conglomerates which currently so dominate the market that they can dictate what books we find on shops’ shelves and what reviews we find in the media.

I have written elsewhere about trends in experimenting with the narrative arc (https://bit.ly/2yTSX6Q). I recently read Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor and boy does he knock around with our expectations of story-telling. Each chapter is a year, there is no traditional paragraphing, human tales are given the same value/space as nature’s tales, there are no speech marks (this last, I personally found rather confusing). Not to mention the unresolved resolution. I had some complaints about the ending to my first novel, The Art of the Imperfect (for me the clue was in the title, it’s going to be imperfect). I would suggest these critics would hate McGregor’s finish.

I understand that some readers want an easy ride, they don’t want to be pushed or challenged, but I like it, and I want greater daring to come into my writing. In my last post (https://bit.ly/2xinR5B) I said I was entering a piece into a novella competition. I made the deadline and my submission included fictional prose (which moved between centuries), literary criticism and poetry. Maybe the judges will merely see it as a mish-mash, however, I was pleased to have attempted something different.

Currently I am wondering how to pull apart the timeline in No Justice without losing pace. Or, given I’m already transgressing various ‘cardinal’ rules, maybe it’s OK to lose pace?

How do you experiment in your writing?

 

Expressing the Inexpressible

‘By finding some way of crafting an experience, constructing a structure to create a door to let other people in so they can walk into your experience and call it theirs and, in the business of doing this, it gives you somewhere to go with it. It’s almost like telling a story back to yourself. Often the more traumatised we are, the more we’ll tell the story or else we’ll be completely silent. Writing is one of the ways of expressing the inexpressible.’
Jackie Kay on Desert Island Discs, 23rd October 2016. She was asked how she got through her difficult encounter with her birth father (as described in Red Dust Road).

The weather has certainly turned in our little seaside town. Summer is dissolving into memories:

Swimming in a waterfall, Northern Italy, July 2018

 

Swiss mountain, July 2018

For the last four years I have come into a phase of my life which the doctors call peri-menopausal. Eighteen years ago I went through a devastating bout of depression. I have found a way of talking and writing about this, I have found a narrative for it which is acceptable to me and (pretty much) acceptable to those around me. I am struggling to find a way to write about what is going on for me now. To express the inexpressible. This is because it involves a lot of blood, an awful lot of blood, coming from my womb and this is considered not a nice thing to talk about. However, for the last four years I have had on-going problems of heavy bleeding which has caused anaemia, I have had headaches which feel like a chisel is being hammered into my right temple and which are immune to painkillers, I have lost control of my body ‘thermostat’ so I overheat leaving me feeling faint and slightly nauseous. I cannot go anywhere now without considering my stock of sanitary products and what access I will have to toilet facilities.

Upset by reading this? Try living it….

On August 1st I had my womb scraped out with a laser during an endometrial ablation. For several weeks after I felt exhausted and very, very low. The bleeding has not stopped. So the narrative I am trying to construct has no neat ending.

I am untidy. I am no longer neat.
A faucet jammed on. I leak.

Angry? You bet. Upset? Sure. And massively de-motivated, especially around my writing. This has not been helped by another brush with the traditional publishing industry which initially was wonderfully encouraging and positive. It looked like, just maybe, my thirty-year ambition of having a novel traditionally published could come to fruition. Of course, not, how could I have been so deluded? Don’t tell me it could still happen, because it won’t. And holding onto a hopeless hope is one of the worst things I can do for my creativity.

As with many other aspects of life, we only hear from the ‘winners’. There are many, many writers and creative souls who do not ‘make it’ in conventional terms (get the publishing deals, get the readers, get the reviews, get the acclaim). If you are going to be a writer you have to decide you will do it for the love, for the pleasure, because it keeps you sane, because it distracts you… For any reason which is about you and not about interfacing with an audience of any kind. I know this. I have known this for thirty years. Sometimes I get enticed into a fantasy where this is not true and it takes an awful lot of energy and effort to drag me out to reality again.

So how to pull myself out of this difficult place. Firstly, I am attempting to be compassionate to myself and kind to my body. Secondly, I am trying out new things, learning new skills, especially in arenas where I do not feel judged. Thirdly, I am slowly, slowly coming back to my writing. Over the last few weeks I have drafted up some of the short stories I discovered lingering in my writing journal (see previous post) and have put a draft structure into a non-fiction project I have around writing, walking and memoir. In the next few weeks I will take up my novel again, re-reading it and intending to find a way to move forward with it.

But I don’t want to leave this blog on a low point – for me or for the reader. So let’s forget for a moment the blood, the pain and the disappointment. Let’s recall an enchanting memory: swimming in the Swiss lake with the mountains all around and the sun sliding up from behind the peaks.

Author Interview: Lynne Blackwell

Welcome to Lynne Blackwell to my blog.

Lynne writes crime fiction/domestic noir. After a stint in the Special Constabulary, Lynne began her nurse training, working mainly in acute general and psychiatric hospitals before co-ordinating day-care for people with dementia. Lynne has a BA (Hons) in Social Policy from Sheffield Hallam University, where she studied Psychology, Sociology, Politics and Criminology. She is a winner of the 2015 Northern Crime competition, contributor to the Northern Crime One anthology and writes regular blogs about the road to publication, which aims to encourage new writers to learn from her mistakes and heed all warnings. 

What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a novel that began as a pitch to my ex agent, Lizzy Kremer, six years ago. It is about a girl who runs away from home after she’s made a serious accusation against another family member; an accusation that was based on nothing more than a series of vague memories from her childhood. 

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
An interest in infantile amnesia.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
All fiction intertwines with real life – minus the lengthy conversations, long drawn out pauses and anything else that can slow down the pace. Whatever the genre, fiction has to be rooted in reality. 

Could you give five tips on how to tackle either characterisation or plotting or dialogue or descriptive passages?
CHARACTERISATION: I tend to write in first person, so I spend a lot of time working on the prologue and the first three chapters until I’ve created the perfect protagonist’s voice for that particular project.

DIALOGUE: Always read dialogue out loud and in the manner of each character to authenticate the voice.

PLOTTING: Delete everything that is superfluous to denouement and slows down the pace.

DESCRIPTIONS: My novels are contemporary, brutally realistic and usually written in first person, so I have to rein in the temptation to write reams of descriptive passages. I do, however, find ways to get around this. For example: I adapted my story in ‘Northern Crime One’ from my second novel (Ghost Towns, 2013) by changing the female narrator from the mother of the victim into a psychic who is haunted by the visions of a drowned girl. This enabled me to examine the dead victim’s Point Of View in a surreal way. My first novel (Into the Snicket, 2009) is about a woman who is an alcoholic and suffers domestic abuse. She is far too stressed to describe anything in great detail, and usually too drunk to notice much at all. However, the fact that she keeps drifting off into drunken stupors gave me an opportunity to describe what she may (or may not) have witnessed in a series of flashbacks as more memories were retrieved.

PLOTTING: A crime editor once advised me to never submit a crime novel without a prologue. Before I start writing a new project, I go in search of an atmospheric ‘crime scene’ for the next prologue. 

How would you describe your writing process?
I don’t meticulously plan my crime novels/stories unless I’m writing a police procedural. Once I’ve got a crime scene in my mind, I’ll have a think about the murder, murderer, victim/s and protagonist before writing a prologue and the first three chapters. I’ll go over this work many times until I’m happy with the Point Of View. Then I’ll jot down a stem outline to use as a guide. I write the basic draft chronologically, often working into the night to keep up momentum. I don’t write fastidiously at this stage; some chapters might be nothing more than a series of notes and diagrams. Once I’ve produced a 40-60,000 word basic draft, I assess what research needs to be done: sociological, psychology, forensic etc. I’ll write several more drafts until I know the characters inside and out, then I’ll work on the dialogue. I wrote ten drafts for my first novel. 

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
I can only write in a quiet environment – at home and preferably alone. When I’m on a roll I’ll work through the night until the dawn chorus.  

What kind of research do you do and how do you go about it?
My Google history is varied, gruesome and rather fascinating! I have made many contacts over the years, so if something is too complex to use a search engine or I can’t rely on information in a book, I’ll ask a professional for their expert advice.  

Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience?
After my first novel was rejected by a few editors I was left without an agent. I picked myself up and submitted it to a couple of other agents before taking on board the crime publisher’s advice to increase the pace. I changed the prologue, removed two out of three narrators and kept the strongest voice. Then I put it to one side and began work on the rest of my portfolio; making all my novels similar in style to ‘Into the Snicket’ by fitting them into a domestic noir/crime genre before the likes of ‘The Girl on the Train.’ 

I continued to write blogs about the trials of being an unpublished author and entered a couple of competitions: the second being a short story competition in association with New Writing North and Moth Publishing. As a winner, my story was published in the anthology, ‘Northern Crime One’, which gave me the opportunity to work with an editor and read at book events. It was reassuring to attend these events with the support of NWN/Moth Publishing, and in the company of the other contributors.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
What keeps you motivated? – I love to give myself a challenge at the start of every project. Three out of my four crime novels are written in first person, but the protagonists are not the murderer, murder victim or investigator. For this reason, it has been a challenge coming up with different ways to maintain the pace that is required for crime without ending up with a contrived plot.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
‘Northern Crime One’ is published by Moth Publishing on Paperback and Ebook https://sites.google.com/site/lynneblackwellwriter

Blog: The Trials of an Unpublished Author –  https://sites.google.com/site/lynneblackwellwriter/blogs

Twitter: @lynnemblackwell

Thank you Lynne!

(Date of interview: 21st January 2017)

 

 

A Writer’s Life – spinning hats, again

writer at work june 15 001I have completed the re-writes for my third crime novel based in Scarborough, The Art of Breathing. It has gone through various drafts each time commented on by writing friends Lesley, Kate and Felix, then Felix did a final go through to make sure the plot held together as a whole. I am very grateful for this support, as an indie, I certainly could not keep moving forward without it. I also had comments back from a small press I submitted the manuscript to. Along with their rejection, they included a couple of pages of my work annotated by their ‘reader’, which is very decent of them. My confidence in the observations did wane somewhat, however, when a question was raised over whether a university would have a bar? Hello?!

So now I spin hats, the writer has to make way for the indie publisher.

The Art of Breathing is booked in with a copywriter in June and then a proofreader in July. Hopefully the final version should be ready by the end of August. I have decided to re-package my three books – The Art of the Imperfect (https://goo.gl/JrGat2); The Art of Survival (https://goo.gl/6RPzk5) and The Art of Breathing – as a trilogy which I will launch in the Autumn. The three are stand-alone in the sense that there is a different discrete crime story in both, but they are tied into a trilogy because of the on-going narrative of one of the characters, Hannah.Art of Survival Coverfront onlyfinal There is a lot to think about and get right, for example: covers; formatting (different formats for the three methods of publication I will use); print runs; mobilising reviews/reviewers; perhaps a new website… I make lists, endless lists.

The Art of… trilogy is part of an on-going crime series and already novel four is beginning to ferment in my imagination. It will take the characters’ stories several years forward and will be based around the fishing community and themes of environmentalism. I am wondering about breaking away from The Art of… title. I’ve come up with The Photograph or The Girl in the Photograph – though maybe I am too late to jump on the Gone Girl bandwagon?

How do you come up with the titles of your novels, stories or poems?

 

Author interview: Louise Mangos

Louise MThis week, I am very happy to welcome writer Louise Mangos to my blog. Louise initially studied business communications in the UK, and later studied journalism at CU in Boulder Colorado in her mid-twenties. She took creative writing as an elective during that time, and eventually dropped journalism to continue satisfying her literary passion. Following a series of creative writing retreats and novel-writing workshops during the years since she’s had a family, the idea to pen a novel was born. STRANGERS ON A BRIDGE is Louise’s first novel, a psychological thriller, which was a finalist in the Exeter Novel Prize, and made the shortlist of the Flash 500 Opening Chapter Competition in 2015. She is currently editing her second novel, also a psychological thriller, entitled PALETTE OF LIES. Both novels are based in Switzerland. Her short story SUMMER OF ’76 was read out on BBC Three Counties Radio last autumn and went on to win second prize in the Erewash Writers Group Short Story Competition. She has twice won the weekly Ad Hoc Fiction competition, and her flash fiction has been published on various flash web platforms.

What are you currently working on?
Having amassed a burden of journals and letters sent home from my overseas travels many years ago, I’ve been encouraged by friends and family to write a memoir, recounting one of my more riveting adventures: A solo three-month mountain bike trip along the backbone of the Continental Divide in the US. After completing that journey over twenty years ago, I was invited to return to Switzerland to participate in one of the most challenging mountain competitions in the alpine world: The Patrouille des Glaciers. The memoir addresses the challenges faced as part of a close-knit team of three in the aforementioned race, on the back of the solo bike adventure the previous year.

I’m also plotting a third novel, a psychological thriller about a man who stalks a backpacking traveller around the world.

What has inspired your most recent writing?
I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” for a book group discussion. It’s a book I wouldn’t ordinarily have picked up, but Cheryl’s journey along the Pacific Coast Trail re-awakened memories of my own adventures in the Rocky Mountains. I was amazed how much interest has been generated by Cheryl’s book, making me realise there’s a greater audience for this kind of narrative non-fiction than I had initially thought.

And as for my fiction, the psychological thriller is a genre I love to read, so it’s easy for me to write. I have recently been dwelling on my wayward twenties, and am drawing my narrative from my sport and travel adventures.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
The answer to the last question pretty much answers this. Many published authors tell their budding protégés they should write about unfamiliar subjects, that they should address the challenge of researching and creating literature from a bed of zero knowledge to earn the ultimate accolade of their critiques. For a novelist starting out, I cannot imagine having written any of my narrative without drawing on some of my life experiences, down to characterisation, dialogues between friends and family, or simply basing the story where I live (which I must say is incredibly inspirational.) As someone who has yet to enjoy the advantages of being a published author, writing about what one knows is also the safest way to keep research costs to a minimum.

Could you give five tips on how to tackle a writing technique of your choice?
Dialogue. I’ve been told that my dialogue is one of the stronger points of my narrative. I recommend the following tips:
1. Always, always read your narrative out loud. When you get to the dialogue, try and adopt the voices and mannerisms of your characters. It will make the dialogue ‘real.’
2. If only two people are having a conversation, use as few dialogue tags as possible (he said, she said.) If there are multiple characters speaking, or you need to draw the reader’s attention back to who is speaking after several exchanges, one of the characters could address the other by name from time to time. ‘But Tommy, you promised you would fill the dishwasher.’ If you must use dialogue tags, keep words such as exclaimed, shouted, and screeched to a minimum, and avoid using adverbs with those tags (he pondered drily, she whispered hoarsely.
3. Avoid exclamations or greetings. Show reactions such as shock/sadness/surprise conservatively between sections of dialogue, without interrupting the flow.
4. Avoid dumping information in a long chunk of dialogue. It’s tempting to do this if you need to convey backstory at a certain moment, but this method should be kept to a minimum, ideally one piece of information at a time, if at all.
5. Try to keep conflict in every dialogue. If a conversation takes place where everyone agrees, then the conversation probably didn’t need to happen in the first place.

How would you describe your writing process?
In general I’m a ‘plotter’ rather than a ‘pantser.’ I think anyone who writes (and reads) crime fiction knows how important plot is in this genre. I find it very hard to leave a ragged sentence alone until the edit. I might only write a short section of a narrative before I’m compelled to go back and edit that last section at least once before moving on. I would love to have the discipline of a ‘pantser,’ to leave that section alone until I have written at least a chapter or even a whole book, and then go back and restructure the words I have dashed out. I find the editing process extremely satisfying, watching a sentence that started as a seed inside my head become something that I can re-read in wonder a few weeks later and say ‘Crikey, did I really write that? It sounds really rather good.’

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
Sleep, domestic chores and social media all get in the way of my writing. I need complete silence, and often wake at 4 am so I can have the blissful calm of a dark house in which to write. Even the white noise of the fridge in the kitchen sometimes causes my concentration to slip. And the Internet… it’s a double-edged sword. I should simply turn off the Wi-fi for huge sections of the day, but I love having my Thesaurus open on my split screen, and researching the minutiae is so much easier with the aid of search engines. The call for friendly banter with my Facebook and Twitter friends, however, dominates when I’m lacking a moment of inspiration.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
As I mentioned earlier, if you write about what you know, most of your research is inside your head. But there are certain things a writer should make sure they get right in their narrative, and not everything on the Internet can be quoted verbatim. For a crime novelist, the most important research is probably police protocol and procedures in the country or region in which the story is based. I’m amazed at how open people are when I tell them I am researching for a book. A police chief, lawyer, or accountant who might ordinarily charge a small fortune for an hour of his/her time, is often more than happy to offer information for no more than the price of a coffee in the local café. For my second novel I visited the women’s prison where the story is based, and when I required follow-up clarification on some of the information I was given, the head warden was more than happy to answer questions. Of course, they all need to be assured Louise Mthat they will receive a signed copy of your book once it is published!

Can you talk about your chosen publishing route?
I’ve given myself until the end of the year to secure interest in from a traditional publishing house. However, the time frame is interminable. Once a book is finished and the manuscript has been assessed, most self-published authors can have their novel out in the market in as little as a couple of months. A first-time author choosing the traditional publishing route can expect to wait a couple of years before his or her book is seen on the shelves of the local bookstore. Patience is a must.

The question you wished I’d asked you: What compels me to write?
I’ve always had to write – childhood stories, poems, teenage diaries, journals of my adventures as a young adult, and latterly, novel-length fiction. It’s an underlying compulsion, almost an instinct. When I started writing longer works of fiction, I was hesitant, unsure whether people would like what I write. For the most part, I have received only useful critique for my first works, and have been able to adapt and learn from the feedback. Now I’m more confident, especially after the affirmation of being on a couple of shortlists. Once I immerse myself in a project, I sometimes forsake all other functions such as sleep and food, in order to get the words out. It helps that I’m a fast typist, but sometimes not fast enough for the ideas spilling out of my head.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
I have an author website: www.louisemangos.com

and a public Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/LouiseMangos

or you can chat with me on Twitter: @LouiseMangos

Virginia Woolf, Strictly Philosophers & Me

When I was doing more teaching at the university than I do now, I would give two pieces of advice to my students. Firstly, separate your essential you from your writing, a critique of your writing is not a criticism of you as a person. Secondly, just because it’s true, doesn’t make it a good story. As with any bestower of ‘good’ advice, I, of course, often forget my own.

Last week, I received another rejection from a publisher. This one was slightly kindlier, and, indeed, left the door open for further submission. They also sent me their reader’s general comments on my novel and her more particular comments on my first chapter. She made some helpful points, ones I can use to develop and improve my writing, so that’s a bonus. On the other hand, she brought up the contentious issue of the likeableness of one of my main characters, Hannah.

She said: ‘I wholly appreciate that not everyone is going to be positive sunshine, rainbows and unicorns, but when they’re always negative, it takes a real emotional toll on the reader that you have to be careful to temper.’

I find it hard to separate myself from Hannah, hers and my own experience of depression are very similar and, I can tell you, it wasn’t sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. However, just because it’s a true representation of one person’s experience (supplemented by my counselling training/knowledge) of depression, doesn’t make it a good story does it?

Then I think, am I trying to make this a comfortable read? Aren’t crime/mystery stories meant to be challenging? Melanie McGrath, in The Guardian Books Blog on June 30th 2014, said: ‘Crime fiction gives us permission to touch on our own indecorous feelings of rage, aggression and vengefulness, sentiments we’re encouraged to pack away somewhere… where they won’t offend.’

There is a psychological theory which says we most fear the ‘other’ which is closest to the parts of ourselves which we wish not to acknowledge. Hannah maybe a hard character to empathise with, but it that, at least partly, because she represents the part of us which is hard to empathise with?

So I am not to be traditionally published this time and I continue on my merry ‘indie’ way. The Art of Survival will be available on Amazon in paperback & on Kindle on the 21st of November, with pre-ordering on Kindle from the 11th of November. The Art of the Imperfect is available in both formats now: http://goo.gl/z7HFgz.

Being accepted by a traditional publisher still remains an aim for me, even though I know it has its own down-sides. I comfort myself with two thoughts. One, Virginia Woolf self-published; OK her husband bought a printing press and installed it in their basement, but if she were alive today she’d be uploading onto Createspace & Kindle.

Two, the words of Tristan McManus, a pro on Strictly Come Dancing – yes, really. He was asked for his thoughts on winning. He said (I paraphrase): it’s hard when you’re doing something you love and there can only be one winner, you have to focus on your own dancing and improving that as much as you can, as the ultimate accolade (of winning) may never be yours. There maybe more than one winner in the publishing world, but, even so, the winner’s paddock is not huge, and I may not get in. However, I can enjoy my writing and engaging with the readers who are there and for whom I am very grateful for.

The Art of Survival – launch date: 21st November 2015
The Art of Survival asks: What will fear push ordinary people to do? What happens when little girls get lost? DS Theo Akande is investigating the disappearance of eight year old Victoria Everidge. Her mother, Yvonne, is a desperate woman. What is she capable of? Eminent journalist and newspaperman, Stan Poole, dies leaving a filing cabinet full of secrets. As these leak out, his daughter, Hannah, begins to question her own girlhood. She is losing her way. Her Art of Survival Coverfront onlyfinalbest friend, Lawrence, newly an item with Theo, finds it hard to remain supportive. Instead Hannah clings to her work as a trainee counsellor and to her client Julia. Julia is apparently no little girl lost, but appearances can be deceptive. Then a body is found. The Art of… crime series by Kate Evans tackles issues of mental health and marginalisation. This isn’t gritty crime, this isn’t cosy crime, this isn’t police procedural. This is poetic storytelling which peels back the psychological layers to reveal the raw centre.

How to behave when not short-listed

I was watching the BAFTAs on TV the other evening and noticing those who did not win, hiding their disappointment with a smile and with whole-hearted applause for the victor. I want to be equally gracious in defeat, as I have not gone from the long-list to the short-list for the Crime Writers Association first novel award (http://thecwa.co.uk/news/cwa-dagger-awards-shortlist/).

I do keep reminding myself that it is already an achievement to be on the long-list, there were only twelve of us chosen out of 400 entrants. Even so, I do feel disappointed not to have gone further.

On the other hand, this could be an opportunity to hunt down an agent and I am preparing to do that. Plus I am working on ‘The Art of Survival’ the second book in my crime series which I hope to publish this Autumn (agent or no agent). I am into writing the final draft as well as planning the publishing schedule, talking to printers, copy-editors, proof-readers and so on. No time to dwell too long on the if onlys….