Friday, 24 May 2013
The definition of writing is that it's a language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols.
That sums it up very neatly doesn't it? But that summary is just the stone which hits the water; there are so many more ripples to explore. Writing to me is about having my voice heard, unleashing my imagination, making new friends in my characters, boosting my confidence, a way of keeping me focused, a method of learning through research, increasing my organisational skills by accurately setting time-lines in my story and putting the chapters in the right place to help the story flow and most definitely - escapism.
What made me think of writing this blog post, was a critique I had to do for this month's fiction group at Nottingham Writers' Studio. I'd started by picking out the odd grammar mistake and highlighting beautiful similes, when I became more interested in what the writer was saying than any grammatical errors. Two sentences jolted me. I read them again. 'It occurs to me that writing can be a means of control which is lacking elsewhere in our lives. Writing is sometimes taken up when life itself fails, disappoints or falls short in some way.'
It occurred to me that I took up writing novels in 2007 just as a certain part of my life changed and I felt my control of life was, for the most part, out of my hands. Did my sub-concious lead me to start a novel that Sunday morning as a way of gaining some control back? I've often remarked that I love writing because I'm in charge of my characters' decisions and directions. I can tell them what to say, lead them out of danger and direct them to a happier life. I become lost in their lives and actually feel that my characters are my friends as I disappear into my writing. Is this a sort of therapy my mind led me to as a way of protecting me? Perhaps. Writing is known to help people with traumatic problems, so why shouldn't it help someone who has just lost their way?
Writing about traumatic and emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological well-being. As a way of healing affected people, they're asked to write about past stressful events. Those who do so, generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics. Writing is so much more than a textual medium. It can be used successfully as a therapeutic tool for survivors of trauma and in psychiatric settings and is associated with both short-term increases in physiological arousal and long-term decreases in health problems. Not bad for just putting pen to paper!
If you can’t change something about where you are in life then change it by writing. Go to the ocean in your mind and listen to the sound your footsteps make on the pebbles or feel your toes sink into the cool sand. Listen to the waves as they hush up and down the the beach, smell the salt-air and sweet seaweed. Write about the cherry blossom festivals in Japan by going there on the page. Can you smell the fragrant blossoms as they tumble to the floor in the mild breeze? How about indulging in the freedom of skiing. The skis are swishing from side to side as you glide down the hill, looking up at the blue shadows on the mountains and the sun glinting off the peaks. Go for it. Indulge in a little imagination. It's a fantastic tonic!
I read an interview in The Times last month by Rose Tremain, the Chancellor of the University of East Anglia. She said,
'My belief in the imagination is absolute. Part of the joy of writing is going on a journey somewhere outside my own life.'
And it does help to escape from time to time, if only in our imaginations. As the old cliche goes, a change is as good as a rest!
Thursday, 18 April 2013
With the snow and the frost a mere shiver of a memory away, sunshine and a mild breeze accompanied me to the 42nd London Book Fair this week. I hadn't planned anything in particular as this year I'd decided to wander the stalls, stop for a coffee at the Literary Pen Cafe and linger at the Author Lounge whilst listening to whichever writer happened to have the microphone at the time.
The London Book Fair is the global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels. It takes place every spring and is great for exploring and learning about the innovations shaping the publishing world of the future. This year Turkey was the Market Focus country following on from China last year.
Author of the day on Tuesday 16th April was Elif Shafak who answered questions and spoke about her novel, Honour. Honour is her ninth novel and is about a Turkish-Kurdish family saga set in London. She writes fiction in both Turkish and English. Critically acclaimed as “one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary literature”, her books have been translated into more than thirty languages. Elif Shafak said, 'Stories make a difference in my country (Turkey) and all around the world. They connect us across borders. By giving voice to the voiceless, making visible the invisible, and challenging intolerance and bigotry, storytellers can mend the bridges that extremist ideologies smash, dividing humanity into islands of "us" versus "them." It is a pleasure and honour to have been chosen one of the Authors of the Day at the London Book Fair this year.'
I was drawn to the kobo stand having seen their new Aura HD ereader advertised. With it's adjustable lighting, 1-2 month battery life and being the highest resolution 6.8 inch screen on the planet, it had me coveting the little rectangular piece of plastic like nothing else at the fair!
For the first time ever at the London Book Fair, 'The Pitch' enabled unpublished authors to meet and network with literary agents and gave them the opportunity to present their book proposal to a literary agent, face-to-face, and get feedback on their ideas and submission material. I haven't heard whether a new author was successful in finding representation at the fair, but wouldn't it be wonderful if they had? It's great to think that someone has seen fit to help unpublished writers and to offer them this opportunity.
The great debate at this year's Fair was 'Amazon: Friend or Foe?' The wide-ranging poles of opinion were that Amazon was being 'unfairly maligned' or were 'destroying the competition.' Eoin Purcell, editor of New Island Books and Irish Publishing News defended Amazon by saying that it was only taking advantage of the natural properties of the internet and digital change. Jennifer Lee, publisher of Daily Lit agreed saying that Amazon were 'the one's who created a critical mass for digital reading.' She said that 'the company had also opened distribution for writers via self-publishing which had unleashed a new stream of creativity.'
Arguing against Amazon was Tim Godfrey, Chief Executive of the UK Booksellers Association. He said that 'Amazon has got so big, they are not competing but destroying the competition. Do we really want an environment in which there are virtually no book shops and far fewer publishers and agents? Because that is really where we're heading.' Robert Levine, author of Free Ride backed Tim Godfrey by saying that, 'If you're a writer, you usually want to sell books for money. Amazon wants to propagate a platform.' He also stressed the importance of controlling one's pricing, calling Amazon a 'hyper-efficient machine for dragging down prices.'
A vote was taken on whether or not Amazon was a positive influence in today's writing world.
For Amazon - 59 votes. Against - 117.
On a more light-hearted note, these were the two books I treated myself to. A gorgeous notebook (yet another!) decorated with buttons and which is far too lovely to stain with ink, and a one hundred year old copy of The Mill On The Floss by George Eliot.
I thought the final word could go to the English poet, writer and broadcaster Sir John Betjeman, who described himself in Who's Who as a "poet and hack". I took a photograph of the wonderful statue of him at St Pancras Station.
A Bay In Anglesey by Sir John Betjeman
The sleepy sound of a tea-time tide
Slaps at the rocks the sun has dried,
Too lazy, almost, to sink and lift
Round low peninsulas pink with thrift.
The water, enlarging shells and sand,
Grows greener emerald out from land
And brown over shadowy shelves below
The waving forests of seaweed show.
Here at my feet in the short cliff grass
Are shells, dried bladderwrack, broken glass,
Pale blue squills and yellow rock roses.
The next low ridge that we climb discloses
One more field for the sheep to graze
While, scarcely seen on this hottest of days,
Far to the eastward, over there,
Snowdon rises in pearl-grey air.
Multiple lark-song, whispering bents,
The thymy, turfy and salty scents
And filling in, brimming in, sparkling and free
The sweet susurration of incoming sea.
Thursday, 11 April 2013
Surely only a handful of summers have passed
Since I jumped the white chalked squares
On the shiny black slugs of melting tarmac?
Long halcyon days filled with playgrounds and parks
In which hung a shimmering heat-haze
Which levitated above the hot speckled concrete.
Holidays of sipping iced-lemonade, with skin tinged pink
From the rays which danced in the palest of blues.
Surely only a small bouquet of nights have passed,
Each nocturnal hour filled with soft scents of blossom,
Since I read of the Famous Five by the landing's pale glow.
And now my reflection is patterned with lines of middle age.
How did I sink like a painted pebble into these murkey depths?
Did I skim that stone before it sank?
Polish it against my hip before hurling it
Seawards; to bounce and pirouette upon the surface?
And why does my mother's face look back from the mirror?
Is it a trick of the light? Her tired eyes, her lips,
Puckered with a life of coversation.
A private prank played on me by shadows, as
The poised pencil which draws the circle of life,
Rises, tick by slow tock, to meet its starting point.
By Angela Barton
Monday, 1 April 2013
Virginia Woolf once said that every woman should have a room of one's own to write fiction. I've shared a bedroom with my sister whilst growing up and then with my husband Paul and although I've shared quite happily, I'm very excited about having a room of my own. Paul is building me a writing room in the garden and I'm going to blog about its construction and its positioning onto an over-grown and neglected area at the front of the house. I hope to keep some greenery around the room to soften the edges, although it looks pretty bare at the moment thanks to our freezing Easter weather.
Writing spaces are so individual and it's fascinating to read about where writers feel most comfortable. Every month I buy Writing Magazine and Writers' Forum and love to read about writers' work spaces. Martin Baum has his Bournemouth beach hut, Terry Pratchett has an office with four computer screens in front of him and JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter in a cafe down the road from the university where she worked.
A writing space is definitely a luxury and not essential, after all, writers write; it doesn't matter if we're on a bus, in bed, tucked at one corner of the kitchen table or sitting on a park bench. If the ideas are flowing and a story demands to be written, then we reach for a notebook and we're off. But having said that, it would be wonderful to have my own space? A place to concentrate and escape into the make-believe lives and characters I write about. I could hang up my pin board full of facts and character traits, without cluttering up the kitchen. I could have a book-case to store the myriad of writing text books and vast collection of notebooks I've bought but don't want to deface any of them with a single word! I could also find a home for all these 'writerly' niks-naks I've accumulated and want to find a home for.
Here are the first photographs of my writing room under construction. The shell is up, the roof timbers have begun to be lifted in to place and the first-fix electrics have been put in. Thankfully it's fully insulated so I can write and read in it all year round. I thinks it's the best present ever!
Please keep popping back to check on progress as I up-date my blog.
Monday, 4 March 2013
On the night train,
Rushing and hushing through the dark,
And leaving you behind.
Raindrops, like tribal markings,
Obscure my view
Upon the dark glass on which I sigh.
An apricot dawn breaks and
Embraces the horizon.
When you said I was your beginning
And your ending.
I made you the owner of my heart
As you held my hand in yours.
But time spelt out the truth
And you were careless with my gift;
The sun rises, bringing clarity
To sight and thoughts.
Gazing at the passing trees, with leaves
Waving like Tibetan prayer flags,
I only leant you my heart,
It’s not yours to keep.
I’m going home.
Saturday, 9 February 2013
Me Before You is a story about Louisa Clark, a bright young woman who is growing bored of her fitness-obsessed boyfriend and is fed up when the café in which she's worked for years, closes down. Reluctantly she accepts a temporary six month post as a carer to a young man who has been left in a quadriplegic state following a road accident two years earlier. It was either that, or work at a local chicken factory!
Will Traynor used to have an exciting well paid job, buying and selling businesses. He’s travelled the world, skiing, parachuting, diving and climbing. In the blink of an eye, his life was turned up-side down one morning as he crossed the road to hail a taxi. Will is bitter and angry, especially when his glamorous girlfriend moves on and dates a mutual friend of theirs. His family are at the end of their tether and shortly after Louisa is taken on as his carer, she hatches a desperate plan to try to convince Will that his life is worth living.
This storyline may sound a bit grim and depressing - I thought the same when I read the blurb, but I’m so pleased I over-looked my initial misgivings. Jojo Moyes writes with sensitivity and humour. She tackles the subject of quadriplegia and the rights of disabled people with great perception and compassion. The descriptions of Will's day to day existence which involves relying on others for almost every aspect of his personal care, was written with warmth and understanding.
Jojo Moyes has written a novel which has left me emotionally exhausted, inspired and incredibly impressed. Me Before You gripped me like a spiny teasel clings to clothing. I resented being drawn away from the story by household chores, the useless necessity of sleep and the financial necessity of work. I frowned at the dogs as I sensed the hues outside the window become darker and the colours inside the house fade and grow paler as evening drew closer. A dog walk would tear me from Will and Lou. It took three days to finish Me Before You due to daily commitments, but even in front of my computer at work or trudging around the village green with my spaniels, the story never left my thoughts. I found myself grinning inanely at a page one minute and wiping tears from my cheeks the next. It was an emotional, uplifting, life-affirming read. I became emotionally involved with the characters and in the storyline.
Jojo Moyes has written a book which will stay with me for a long time.
Monday, 7 January 2013
Happy New Year
Now that the last mince pie has been eaten and we're trying to squeeze all that extra re-cycling into the bursting wheelie bin, it's time for getting into that writing routine again. Some of you will have my unstinting admiration for having written every day throughout the festivities, but although I've snatched the odd twenty minutes to read, I've not written - and I've missed it sorely! It was only when a friend asked me how much I'd managed to write over Christmas, that I realised I hadn't followed one of the basic rules I'd learnt when I first started out as a writer. That is to write every day.
We all have to start somewhere when we decide to become a writer. We're not born with the know-how so we must search for it. I'm fairly new to writing, having woken up one morning seven years ago with the idea for a book. I love deciding the fate of my characters and knowing it's me who can save them. They become my friends as if they were real people and I care what happens to them. It's me who can help them out of their difficulties and lead them to an achievement or to someone special. If I were to have one regret in life, it'd be that I didn't discover my passion earlier.
So back to some basic rules, or should I call them helpful hints? I've tried to learn as much as I can about writing techniques through reading 'how to' books, searching the internet, attending workshops and master classes, buying monthly writing magazines, joining a writing group and of course, reading other people's books. There are always a handful of tips which I read time and time again which I thought I'd highlight to all new writers.
Writing can be a lonely pastime. Develop a circle of writer-friends who can encourage you when you're struggling and celebrate with you when you're on a roll. Whether it's a local writing group or joining twitter and facebook, a network of friends can be invaluable at those moments when you doubt your ability.
Read. Keep up with latest trends and developments or your writing could begin to sound dated. By reading, you see what's selling. By understanding market awareness, you could sway a commissioning editor's opinion in your favour.
Keep feeding your imagination. Go for a walk, visit a gallery, sit in a cafe and people-watch or visit somewhere for the first time. Don't just see the day - smell it, listen to it and touch it. Look for inspiration and stock up on creative ideas.
Find time to write every day. Modern life pulls us in all directions but if we truly want to become a successful writer, we need to give ourselves time. Whether you're an early bird or a night owl, find a time that suits you and your family and make it your writing time. Forget the pile of ironing. If one thing is certain - it'll still be there waiting for you after you've finished a chapter! John Braine wrote Room At The Top from his hospital bed on a busy ward so unless both arms are in a sling, even 100 words will keep the grey cells working and the fingers flexible on those keys!
Keep a notebook and pen to hand. How many times have you thought of a perfect sentence, book title, idea or name whilst driving or lying in bed, only to later rack your brain for the forgotten information?
If you have any tips which help you and you'd like to share them, I'm all ears!! I hope you all find writing success in 2013.