Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

On Winning the Young Stationers’ Prize 2015

| Uncategorized

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 16.46.15Last night I was delighted and honoured to be awarded the Young Stationers’ Prize 2015, for accomplishment and promise in writing. And then I got very drunk. Watching my third Berocca dissolve in water today has given me time to reflect on this unexpected joyous moment. Bear with me: I’ll try not to be too much of a twat.

I was surprised and chuffed when Kerry Hudson nominated me for this year’s prize, and grateful to Daisy Buchanan, Diana Beaumont, Hannah Knowles and Shelley Harris for their touching supporting statements and letters of recommendation. I would never have made it this far without them, but not simply because of their lovely endorsements.

Writers have a reputation for being loners, and it’s true I spend a lot of time with just my Mac, but inspiration and creativity don’t come from barren soil. My life is rich with the work and vision of journalists, columnists, authors, editors, filmmakers, directors, playwrights, actors, teachers, mentors, friends, and family. I admire the resonant columns of those like The Evening Standard’s Rosamund Urwin, who was awarded joint runner up of the Young Stationers’ Award. I’m inspired by the innovative work of people like BookMachine’s co-founder, and joint runner up, Laura Summers. I seek to emulate the philanthropic dedication of good souls like Ian Buckley of Prima Software, who was highly commended by the judges. And I’m enlightened by the erudite writing of journalists like Henry Foy, the Financial Times Central Europe Correspondent, who was shortlisted for the prize. Our world is full of stimulus. And as David Aaronovitch from The Times noted in his after dinner speech, technological advances, like Twitter, have opened us up afresh to a broader spectrum of information, knowledge, and interest.

To even be on the same shortlist as the accomplished, driven and brilliant professionals listed above was a thrill. Taking in the Stationers’ Hall, which was completed in 1673, I had to acknowledge the work of all those who have come before. Founded to protect, regulate and promote manuscript writers and illuminators tradesmen in 1403, I was walking in the footsteps of those who sought to make things better. I’m very fortunate to win this prize, but I cannot claim the credit: I’m merely constructed from all those who’ve enriched my life and come before me. This one’s for you guys.

Trophy

Thank you to Paddy Belton, the Master, and all at The Worshipful Company of Stationers for a fantastic evening and a truly treasured prize.

 

2 Comments

Can You Be a Writer and NOT Suffer From Anxiety?

| Playwriting, Uncategorized, Writing

scream

I have found another similarity between writing a book and writing a play: the fear. I’ve reached the part in the process where I lose all faith in my words. I’m convinced everything I’ve written is utter crap. The play will fail. Everyone will hate it. It’s not good enough. What am I putting the poor actors and director through? Now I’m not only gambling with my reputation I’m gambling with theirs.

Most writers I know are anxious. It varies on a scale from distractedly chewing their nails, to those using tools like Mindfullness, medication, or having counselling to help. I myself have explored pretty much every step on that scale. Including that old favourite: wine. Of course you can suffer from anxiety and not be a writer, but I often ask myself (Carrie Bradshaw voice): can you be a writer and not suffer from anxiety?

Write what you know is the oft used tip. If you wish to write a novel set in 18th century St Petersburg then research the city, the era, the clothing, the language, everything: then you will write what you know. You will get it right. In the same way, you can’t write about a broken heart without knowing what a broken heart feels like. You have to draw on the part of you that suffered to make it convincing – even if it’s transferring that emotion to another’s story.

Writers are constantly rooting around in the dark places. Opening old wounds so they can feel the pain, the grief, the despair and, of course, the joy. Simply to drop those feelings into 18th century St Petersburg, like you would an architecture reference or a popular food. It’s hard to turn that off at the end of the day. I see the exhaustion in the actors’ faces when they’ve tapped into that same shadowy place, and I recognise it. It’s like a collapse. Inwards. They’re spent.

In order to write successfully you must make people feel. Of course writers are anxious: we never let our wounds fully heal over. We’re always picking at them. Anxiety and writing go hand in hand.

Will people like my play? Will the audience feel the emotion? I don’t know. But I know I need that fear, that anxiety to keep writing. Without it the words are empty and meaningless.

 

You can find out more about my debut play The Legacy, including how to attend rehearsed readings on the 16th & 17th December at the Tristan Bates Theatre, WC1 here.

0 comment

Writing: Lessons from the past

| Writing

photo copy

My current pinboard – for inspiration & plot planning

Today I set out to get my study back into workable shape following its brief metamorphosis into a Christmas spare bedroom (sorry about all the books, and the inflatable bed, little brother). Whilst hoiking furniture round I unearthed a small pinboard I hadn’t seen for a while (see above for my current gargantuan school classroom size one, which I use for inspiration and visual plot planning).

photo

This little pinpricked beauty (to the left) used to be propped behind my £19 shaky Argos desk in the second bedroom of our London flat, when I first quit my job in fashion and decided to pursue a writing career. My husband and I cobbled together a financial plan and agreed I could take a year out to give it a shot. At the one year mark, and seemingly no closer to realising my dream, I took a part time job to keep funding my writing.

 

Many, many, many, many people thought I was nuts, and there were certainly times when I, exhausted from hours of unpaid typing, reading, studying, and trying to learn my craft, thought I was nuts too. We moved out to Hertfordshire, and I gained a room of my own: a study, with a huge vintage school desk, and the huge school pin board. And I got there. I got an agent, a book deal, and a number of articles published in newspapers and magazines. Somewhere along the way that little pinboard got tucked away, saved for another occasion. I’d forgotten its very existence until today. Along the top I’ve written (in my dreadful handwriting):

 

‘Ne pas oser, c’est ne rien faire qui vaille’

– Without daring, nothing is achieved

 

I believe it’s by Napoleon Bonaparte. My past self was brave and wise to write that. Sometimes in life you have to jump. As I look back at 2013, the year my first book was published, but also the year I lost 6 months to a chronic health condition that saw me unable to type and fearing the repercussions if I did, I realise it’s time to be brave again. I have to jump. I have to try. I’ve typed up the quote, printed it out and stuck it once more to my current pinboard.

Wishing us all a happy, and daring 2014.

6 Comments

Why Creative Writing Courses Need To Face Up To The Reality of Publishing

| Writing

 photo copy

Kent University Creative Writing Centre stumbled into a Twitter storm over the weekend when a section of their prospectus was circulated online:

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 13.00.15

It’s a master class in literary snobbery, and offensive to genre writers. Once again, it’s a case of literary fiction versus, well, everything else. A Proust covered two-finger salute to that nasty horrid publishing industry, and their nasty horrid genre rubbish. The Kent University Writing Centre had the good sense to apologise and alter what they claimed was a badly worded online piece. Ironic that, from those “world-leading” writers. Ahem.

I’ve had a memoir published about working in the fashion industry. It has a pink cover. I’ve experienced my fair share of dismissive assumptions about my writing capabilities first hand – most recently: “You have a degree in literature and you published this?” I am used to encountering academic or literary book snobs. I find them dull. I love literary fiction, and I love genre fiction, I love YA and I love non-fiction. My tastes, as I’m sure with a lot of readers, are fairly wide ranging. How sad to limit your life to one flavour? The idea some books are intrinsically bad because of their genre is ludicrous. Reading is great. Inflammatory material and grammatically incorrect output aside, we should be happy people are reading.

I don’t want to be one of those people who disparage another’s work by asking how it got published? This particular thread of snobbery seems almost unique to literature. I may see someone wearing a dress I wouldn’t wear, but I’d never say ‘That dress shouldn’t have been made!’ I’m not particularly fond of red cabbage, but I wouldn’t proclaim, ‘This cabbage should never have been grown!’ Yet book lovers, and often writers, can be brutal and damning in their condemnation of things they see as beneath their art form. Phoey! Your reading material is a personal choice, like whether you want red cabbage for supper. It is not our place to police what others ingest.

Some writers, and some creative writing courses, perpetrate the idea anything “mass-market” is dirty. A sell out. A failure. A friend of mine asked the Creative Writing MA class she teaches who wanted to get published? Only half her students raised their hands, while the other half audibly scoffed. Wanting to be published and wanting to get paid for your work has a PR problem in the writing world. Of course you’re welcome to take a course of study just for the pleasure for it. You are free to write purely for the feeling of contentment and satisfaction a well-crafted piece can bring. But no one should disparage others who seek an audience, or payment for their work. Unless you’re lucky enough to be independently wealthy, you’ll need to earn money to feed, clothe and house yourself. Why shouldn’t you seek to do that from the thing you love?

Which brings me round to the danger of creative writing courses ignoring the realities of the publishing industry. All the terms used with such derision in pieces and conversations like those quoted above, “mass-market”, “genre”, “children’s fiction”, “thrillers” etc, are all vital components of a working publishing industry. A beautifully written manuscript just isn’t enough anymore. You need a strong concept, hooks, pace, audience, marketability and a whole host of terms I hear frequently used by agents and editors, but virtually never by anyone teaching a creative writing class. For all those taking courses for the joy of writing there will be all those taking courses to increase their chances of being published. They’re investing their hard earned money and time on something they hope will launch or further a career. Ignoring the vagaries of an increasingly difficult market will leave many writers labouring for years on work they cannot sell.

The laughable idea that a “genre” book is somehow easier to both write and publish ignores the thousands of current unsigned, unpublished authors who are out there slaving away. I know many good writers, and several excellent writers, who are still the wrong side of a publishing deal. Getting published is hard. Creative writing classes that disregard how the publishing industry works, by indicating they’re somehow intellectually above all that messy money stuff, not only do their students a disservice; they also do down those who are published. Authors have not sold out to get there, they have worked hard, they are doing what they love, paying the rent, feeding their kids, earning a living (or something close to it).

I’m not suggesting writers should only set out to write those mass-market thrillers everyone loves to name-drop, far from it. Creative writing courses are an excellent place to develop and progress your artistry, and sculpt your craft into that of a master (though you’re perfectly welcome to do that at home on your tod as well). But, if you want to sell your work, if you want to get published – whether you’re writing literary fiction, young adult, sci -fi, or any book – then you need to know what the publishing industry wants. If creative writing courses feel they are above teaching that, then they should be transparent and honest about it. Yes, they will help you write a book, but you’ll need to look elsewhere for your day job.

13 Comments

Shelf Help: How to Make Working from Home Work For You

| Journalism, Uncategorized

shapeimage_6Are you a full time, part time or ‘whenever I have free time’ writer? Chances are you work, or try to,  from home. This should be right up your hallway… Here’s a link to a guest post I wrote for the writing and self publishing site Shelf Help about how to make working from home work for you:

http://www.bengalley.com/BenGalley.com/Writing_Advice/Entries/2013/9/24_HOW_TO_MAKE_WORKING_FROM_HOME_WORK_FOR_YOU.html

Good luck with your writing. Keep going!

0 comment

Confessions of a Festivalnista: Camp Bestival Backstage Bites

| Uncategorized

Bestival 1

Yeah, yeah, I know festivalnista isn’t a proper word, but neither is fashionista and I published a book with that in the title. It’s that same book that saw me invited to appear at Camp Bestival, which took place in glorious Dorset this weekend.

I’ve been to festivals before, but never one this big, and never as an artist. It’s rather lovely having an ‘Artist’ wristband. My mates (who from now on will be referred to as ‘my entourage’) pitched their tent next to Katy Hill and calmly watched Mark Owen stroll past without squealing. I’m proud of you, girls. There’s a swanky backstage bar area called The Lucky Cat. It was decorated with opium den style slouch couches, Chinese lanterns and me, reclining in various positions, sipping gin coolers. And there really are nicer toilets in the VIP area. You know you’ve arrived when you have guaranteed access to loo roll on a festival site. I was so spoiled it almost made up for feeling like a loser for most of the ten years I spent working in the fashion industry. Almost.

Lucky Cat

The Camp Bestival site is a glorious sprawl of fun and colour, spreading around and away from Lulworth Castle like a fete on hippy crack. There were some big name acts that were lapped up, got down too, and generally screamed at by my entourage (told ya), including Grandmaster Flash, The Levellers, and the quite unbeatable Horrible Histories (I’m guessing the average age of our group was a shade older than their usual audience). But for me the true joy of festivals is found away from the main stage, in the unexpected gems you stumble across. The disco tent, the inflatable church with dancing barefoot vicars, the small child in a monkey onesie chasing and leaping after a bubble. It’s what you see on the way to the big stage that you really remember. Festivals are like life in that way.

I was very lucky to do my own turn in the Guardian Literary Tent. I regaled all with my powerful insight into festival fashion tips: get a gel manicure, get a blow dry, get your eyelashes tinted…only joking. As I said on stage, I always feel so happy when I’m at a festival, is it the alcohol? The communing with nature? The fact my entourage are all with me? No, it’s because I spend four days without mirrors. At best you might come across a small shiny plastic square stuck to the back of a portaloo door, which is so fuzzy and unclear it’s like looking at an Instagram of yourself. So my true festival fashion tips are: wear what makes you happy, and what you can pee easily in. Unless you’ve got access to those artist loos, in which case go for as many complexly fastened outfits you have to fully remove to wee in, as you like.

Thank you, Camp Bestival. It was a pleasure.

Bestival

 

0 comment

Creative Writing Class Clichés

| Uncategorized

 

Creative Writing Class

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’ll probably recognise some of these characters:

The Undiscovered Genius

Andrew is Hemingway reincarnate. He feels it deep in his troubled soul. His new build one bed flat is a homage to 1920s Paris. He starts every piece he writes with a drink and works into the night, making sure he hones the pallor of a struggling artist: dehydrated, and starved of sun and sleep. At weekends he sits in a local cafe writing by hand about impotency. His writing class are far too bourgeois to understand him. They haven’t even heard of Gertrude Stein. After class, Andrew sits in the corner of the pub, wearing a cable knit jumper, drinking whiskey and challenging anyone who comes near him to arm wrestle. By day he’s a chartered accountant.

The ‘I’m Too Busy’ Writer

Iris joined this class to give herself a deadline each week to write to. But she’s always so busy; she just hasn’t had the time to type. She’s had to do so many things. You know, all those things that just have to be done. Next week she will definitely write. Next week will be different. (It isn’t).

The Grey Haired Lady

Marjorie has been coming to this writing group for six years. Each week she travels up to town in her knitted cardigan and sits in the same seat. When the youngsters go out for a cigarette, she eats the ham salad sandwich she’s packed. Now they insist you type all your work, she’s had to dig out her typewriter. She spends an hour before class randomly pressing buttons on the photocopier to coax it into life. She finds something positive to say about everyone’s writing, and always lets someone else read first. Now she comes to think of it, it’s been years since she actually read anything. The teacher and the other students are mildly patronising to her, but they don’t mean any harm. When she finally reads, Marjorie recites a tender homosexual sex scene from her second novel. Everyone is speechless.

The Know-It-All

Jim is a writing god. His command of the English language is unsurpassable. He knows how to use an Oxford comma and he’s not afraid to tell you. He doesn’t need any criticism, idiots. He came to this group so you could appreciate his literary magnificence, idiots. Only a fool would question his loose sentence structure, indecipherable prose or complete lack of plot. Jim could teach this class better than that idiot teacher. He could give Hilary Mantel a run for her money, idiot. Huh! He could give Proust a run for his money, idiot. (Idiot).

The Newbie

Jane really enjoyed creative writing as a child. She’s been meaning to start again for years. At school the lovely Mrs Brownlee, her old English teacher, always said she had natural talent. There are bound to be one or two good writers in this class of thirty, but Jane’s quietly confident she’ll be in the top ten at least. She visibly shrinks as one after another incredibly talented, hardworking writers who’ve been at it for years, read. She shoves her piece back in her bag. She has a lot of work to do.

The Journalist

Louise is a sub on a national newspaper. She hates telling her writing group what her day job is because they get overexcited. ‘A paid writer! How amazing! How wonderful!’ Louise knows she spellchecks for a living, but she dreams of writing the last great Fleet Street novel. After years of generating copy in high-pressured, professional environments, her daily word count is staggering. She can’t understand why everyone struggles to layout a simple page. How hard is it to double space? And what’s with all these gaps between the paragraphs? She out drinks everyone else in the pub after class, and goes home to dream of the Pulitzer.

The Sci-Fi Geek

Geoff works in IT. He often breaks off during his reading to explain the finer points of Artificial Intelligence. He spends every night, weekend and holiday writing, because his created world is much better than this one. He only leaves the house to attend his writing group; the rest of his social life is online. If you refer to sci-fi as genre fiction he’ll quote Orwell and Huxley at you. His classmates take the piss out of him and his glasses, which are stuck together with sticking plaster. He lands a six-figure three-book deal and celebrates by buying voice recognition software.

The Writing Mum

Anna gets up at 6am to wake the kids. Then it’s; breakfasts, washes, hair combing, teeth brushing, bags packed, coats on, and off to school. Back at home she puts on the washing, strips the bed, makes soup for supper, before going to the shops for supplies. Just after 11 she sits down to write. At 11.30 the phone rings: one of the kids has forgotten their lunch. She gets in the car drives to school, delivers the lunch, drives home, just in time to take another call: one of the kids is sick. The evenings are swallowed in a whirlwind of homework, dinner, costumes to be made for the school play, story telling, teeth brushing, refereeing fights, baths and pyjamas. At 9pm she collapses into bed. During the half hour she managed to write, Anna will have produced far more quality words than anyone else did in a week.

 

 

0 comment