Why Do I Write? I Write To Live

As a child, I loved to write, and the adults in my life thought this was wonderful. Everyone sees the potential in a child who loves to write and read. Both interests are to be celebrated and encouraged. When I was a teenager, this encouragement started to wane. My family, my schoolteachers, in fact anyone I mentioned wanting to be a writer to, seemed to think I would need a Plan B. Eventually, I grew used to this. The big smiles and pats on the back I had received as a story writing child, had turned into raised eyebrows and questions about real jobs. As I continued into my adult life, squeezing writing into my existence whenever and however I could, I often came across the same question from those who did not understand. Why?

Why do you write? What are you writing for? What are you writing about? Why?

It was always so hard to explain. But now I think I truly know why.

It is of course, largely out of my control. Not entirely a decision, but something inside of me that simply makes me who I am. It’s a craving and a thirst and a longing and an addiction. I am full of stories and people and I am unable to turn any of them off. I have always had a fondness for words and a fascination with people.

But it’s more than that as well. The reason I write now is the same reason I wrote when I was a child. When I was a child, if you had asked me at a very tender age, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a dog. I loved dogs and pretended to be one, enjoyed reading about them, and as soon as I could, I started writing about them. All my early stories were about dogs. I got to live my dreams and play out my fantasies through writing. In my stories, I could be a dog if I wanted to be. I could explore how it felt to have four furry legs, a wagging tail and sad brown eyes. In my stories, I could be a girl who found a dog and hid it, kept it against all odds. I could be a dog rescuer. I could invent lives and homes and friendships for these dogs. Realising this, fuelled my addiction and my joy and I rushed home to my notebook and pen throughout my childhood and into my teens.

In my teens, my interests changed. My reading habits expanded. My writing mirrored my reading, with The Outsiders and Catcher In The Rye inspiring my own gritty stories of teenage friendship and drama. I was an introverted teenager, but through writing I could explore other personalities. I could invent teenagers who were wild, reckless and in trouble. I could create the kind of friendships I longed for in real life. I could throw drama after drama at them and help them battle through it. It was during my teens that I truly fell in love with the characters I created. To me, they were, and still are, entirely real.

Throughout my life, writing has given me an extended life. Many lives. I have not just been me. I have not just lived an ordinary life, but I have lived extraordinary ones as well. I have not just been myself, I have been many other people. I have lived in the past and in the future. I have been female and male. Straight and gay. White and biracial. Young and old. I have been evil, controlling and destructive. Manipulative, selfish and damaged. I have been frightened, hunted and owned. I have been brave, reckless and violent. I have ended lives and saved them. I have climbed inside these skins, walked around in them, breathed in them, become them.

To be a writer is to explore humanity and to invent stories. Everywhere you turn, there are untold stories, unnoticed lives. To be a writer, means that no experience is truly dull, sad or wasted. To be a writer, means that anything can be used and spun out into something new.

So why do I write? For all of these reasons. Because I am not just me. And I never will be.

 

Tjis post is brought to you by Chantelle Atkins.

Contemporary fiction … and risk

And one from the archive today to celebrate risk-taking in contemporary fiction

Britfic

Contemporary fiction is all about the values of the day, if you take one of the definitions (for more on various definitions of contemporary fiction, see my post here). But that often comes with a need to shy away from the ‘usual’ and ‘conventional’, and instead push boundaries. This is risky business. Why? Because readers like what they like, don’t they?

cloud-atlas

I, for one, do not subscribe to the school of thought. If that were the case, ‘different’ books like Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and, yes, even Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn would not have made the ripples they had in their audiences if readers weren’t interested in reading something fresh and different. Trying to find a multi-point-of-view narrative that didn’t pass the baton (and failing) was what prompted the writing of my own novel, which…

View original post 281 more words

An Indie Point of View

When I started out writing my first novel at the age of nineteen, it was on a typewriter and ‘cut and paste’ meant exactly that, using scissors and glue. How things have changed. What has also changed is the technology available to the self or indie publisher/author.

There have always been indie publisher/authors. Virginia Woolf was one. However, her husband had to buy a printing press and put it in their basement to establish what would become Hogarth Press (named after their house in Richmond). These days all that is needed is a computer, a bit of techie knowledge and an internet connection.

I became an ‘indie’ out of necessity. Unable to find a publisher, with a significant birthday arriving, and some inheritance to financially cushion me, I realised the time is now. I now have three novels, of which I am inordinately proud, available to an international audience. I even got long-listed for an award, the CWA debut dagger, for my first one.

There are lots of hats to wear. I pay for a professional copyeditor and proofreader, however, once their work is done, I am totally responsible for making sure I do the corrections accurately. I format the text three times: for a local print-run; for createspace; for Kindle. I over-see the work of the professional designer who is doing my covers and also of the printer (discussing with him issues around type of paper and laminate for the cover). Then, swapping hats again, I organise the launch and market the books.

spinning-hatscropped

For me, the hardest part is the marketing. For everything else, it feels like if I put the effort in, I can see the results. Not so with marketing. It is a bottomless pit, always hungry for more and never delivering as much as it promises. Social media has been great for networking with other writers and finding supportive colleagues, but as far as marketing goes? Mmm, in my opinion, it’s only successful for those who are already well-known or who love, love, love being on there every minute of the day.

All this hat spinning can be difficult and sometimes it feels lonely, the responsibility of all the decisions basically being with me. It’s also not always easy to meet the prejudice which I think sill hovers around being an indie. There are those who thrive on being an indie, citing the freedom to be their own boss and to luxuriate in knowing everything is how they want it to be. But despite this and stories of indies who have made it big, such as Eva Lesko Natiello whose book The Memory Book made it onto the New York Times bestseller list (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eva-lesko-natiello/selfpublished-book-beats-_b_11909842.html), my attitude remains more ambivalent.

art-of-breathing-cover

I have heard, anecdotally, that following the traditional route – lit agent and publisher – is not all peaches and cream. However, deep down, I still yearn to get on this path. And I have decided to put aside my indie hats for a while to once again see what’s possible, being more strategic than I’ve ever been before given what I’ve learnt in the last few years. I know hard work, talent and shed loads of luck aren’t enough, I need to plug into the literary world, network, assess the best approach for me.

What are your experiences of publishing, indie or otherwise? What are the pros and cons for you? Any tips?

 

This post is brought to you by Kate Evans.

Five of the most important things I have learnt from writing

For me being an author is a continuing learning process. Although I’m about to publish my seventh novel there’s always something new to discover or surprise me, either from something I read or from my writing colleagues. I was once asked what I thought were the five most important things I had learned which could be passed on to would-be writers and here they are –

1. I guess the most important thing of all is self-belief. As a fledgling writer embarking on my first novel I was very aware I was entering unchartered territory. I knew what I had begun was going to be a huge and probably at times, a difficult task. I had the plot sorted but exactly how many thousand words would that translate into? Would it be enough for a whole book? And would anyone want to read it? This was the point where I told myself no matter what it took I was going to write this book; that yes I could do it. It wasn’t an easy journey and there were difficult moments but I kept going, holding on to my belief that I could achieve my dream of being an author. My first book, When Tomorrow Comes was published in 2009 and five others have followed, which I guess is proof that if you believe you can do it, you will.

2. Reading. A writer needs to read…and not only their own genre. Reading enables you to keep up with what is currently on the market and gives you an insight into other writers’ techniques. How they structure their work, create characters and develop storylines. It’s also helped me when I’ve hit a flat spot in my manuscript. Sometimes quite unexpectedly a scene in the book I’m reading will provide me the answers I need to kick start my writing again.

3. Social Media. This is so important. When my first book was published I knew very little about social media. The first thing I set up was a website and hot on its heels, Facebook and Twitter accounts so I could link it. I now have a blog and regularly invite other writers to come and virtually chat. This gives them exposure for their own work and in turn, I get invited back to promote my work. I also review for Brook Cottage Books and have set up a dedicated website for this. Facebook in particular, is very useful, enablling me to link with other writers, join groups and forums and spread the word.

4. Patience. Novel writing doesn’t always go to plan. You begin a story but it’s not always a smooth ride. When things go wrong, as they often do, you need to approach your problem in a calm way. To get your writing back on track, patience and determination should be your main focus. You will do it. It will happen. Yes, I know it’s frustrating but over the years I’ve learned to become very philosophical seeing these unforeseen obstacles as a ‘meant to be’ moment. It goes with the territory and needs to be treated as a challenge not a disaster.

5. When the going gets tough… Yes, there will be moments of frustration when things don’t go to plan. You can also guarantee you’ll suffer from writer’s block – when you have a scene to write but no matter how many attempts you make, it simply won’t come right. Or your writing dries up completely. I guess this situation connects with No 4 above. It’s part and parcel of the pathway. It’s annoying but it happens. When I find myself in this situation I simply take a step away from my work for a while and do something completely different. Because I know in doing this when I return I’ll be much fresher, see things in a completely different way and can guarantee I’ll resolve the problem.

So to summarise, the five things I’ve learned from being an author are:
• Believing in myself
• Being a reader as well as a writer
• Developing a good social media presence
• Having patience when you hit a problem
• Knowing when to step away from your work

 

This post is brought to you by Jo Lambert.

Write what you know . . . or maybe not?

All contemporary fiction writers will have heard the saying, ‘write what you know’ at some point in their writing life. It always makes an appearance in the Top 10 writing tips for aspiring authors but it’s a piece of advice that I think can be quite dangerous. I think it straightaway puts up limits as to what you can and can’t write about and here’s why:

Obviously nothing beats firsthand experience, if you yourself have experienced a situation that you are writing about, your feelings at having gone through it will ring true with the reader. Or if you once lived in the location where your book is set, your writing will definitely have an authenticity that you just can’t beat. But what happens if you are writing a second, third or even fourth book? You may be able to base your first book solely on your experience but unless you have had a colourful and exciting life, the chances are that you will run out of material pretty quickly.

This is where research comes in. Research, if it is done properly, can help you colour in the bits that you don’t know. Of course nowadays we’re very lucky to have the Internet. You can find so much information online – historical archives, newspapers, medical reports, as well as people’s firsthand experiences. The author JoJo Moyes talks about using chat forums for people with spinal injuries to research her brilliant novel ‘Me Before You’.

Of course there will always be some things that you can’t find online. When it came to researching my fourth novel ‘My Sister’s Child’, I knew I wanted to tackle the thorny issues surrounding modern reproductive techniques namely egg donation. The book tells the story of two sisters Jo and Isla and the resulting fallout, which occurs after Isla donates her eggs to help her sister Jo conceive a baby. The main difficulty I had was that egg donation especially between two sisters, is obviously a deeply private and often painful matter for the individuals involved so there wasn’t a huge level of information available online. Added to that, at the time of writing, the legislation in Ireland in relation to donor-assisted conception was in the process of being changed. So to ensure that the storyline accurately reflected current treatments, once I had carried out a basic level of research myself, I devised a medical questionnaire and contacted David Walsh of the SIMS clinic (an Irish fertility clinic) who very kindly answered my questions. In my experience if you can’t find what you are looking for online, there are plenty of experts out there who are delighted to help you out if you need a firsthand account or advice on something (especially if you promise them a mention in the acknowledgements!).

As a writer you should also be drawing on your feelings to add depth to your story – you may not know how it feels to come home to find your husband in bed with someone else (I hope!) but I bet you have probably experienced an intense anger at some point in your life. So even if you haven’t direct experience of a situation, just like an actor getting into character for a film, these are types of feelings that you need to call on to help put you in the shoes of your characters.

I think the ‘write what you know’ rule belongs to a different time, when research was slow and tedious. Nowadays writers have so many more avenues open to them to get information for their stories. There are plenty of ways to fill in the blanks when you get stuck so don’t put barriers in your way before you even begin and anyway, isn’t the point of writing fiction that you have to be able to make it up?

 

This post is brought to you by Caroline Finnerty.

On location

The question I’m most often asked by readers, budding authors and befuddled guests at dinner parties is: ‘Where do you write?’

When my stock replies of ‘on paper’ or ‘on the walls of public lavatories’ have been merrily laughed away my answer is ‘on location’. Now after stating this the amused faces are sometimes replaced by furrowed brows, at least until I explain, succinctly, what I mean by this phrase.

Even through this digital, virtual, mire I can see, dear reader of blogs, your brow too is furrowed. So I shall explain to you exactly what I mean by writing ‘on location’, and why I choose to do so.

Twenty-nine years ago, to my surprise, I saw Alan Bennett sitting on a wall in the Yorkshire village of Heckmondwike. He was wearing his customary tweed jacket, slacks and a comfy pair of shoes, I’m sure you can picture him, this is Alan Bennett after all – one of our national treasures. Mr. Bennett was not sitting on the wall just to pass the time until the pubs opened or merely soaking up the glorious Yorkshire sunshine. No. He was actively and intensely staring at passers-by. In one hand he had a notepad and in the other a pen. He was writing on location! Now he may have been actually taking notes rather than constructing a cohesive comic narrative, but at this juncture let us not argue the toss. As I strolled past, with my father – two southerners exchanging comments about the place with the strange sounding name, he scribbled in his pad! It would be immodest of me to believe that I made it into one of his pieces, but one can but dream.

Years later, and without at the time making the connection to Alan (I’ve mentioned him several times now, so feel we should be on first name terms) I found myself doing the same thing – writing on location. Except I wasn’t sitting on a wall in Yorkshire rather I was on the terrace of a Kyiv café sipping chilled vodka and watching the ‘new Ukrainians’ strut by. Like Alan, I had too discovered that I preferred to ‘write on location’.

Me writing Kyiv

“Hang on,” I hear you say. “Isn’t this ‘writing on location’ business just note-taking? An aide-mémoire? ”

Yes, it is and more. For the non-writer (I’m sorry, I agree that title makes me cringe too, but please bear with me), who is not surreptitiously making notes it is called ‘people watching’. For me, however, it’s writing on location.

When an artist, painting a landscape, starts to sketch out their idea as to how they will interpret the panorama in front of them they usually do so with light pencil strokes, until the basic shape of what they will paint has been formed or if they dive straight into the painting the pencil strokes have been visualised in their mind’s eye.

As an author, an artist using words to colour his page, I look at the world around me and do the same. I try to create an authentic narrative by inhabiting the setting of my writing. I may sit and ‘notice’ that in this street, opposite the café I am camped in, there is a jewellery shop with a black door, or that a fish mongers is incongruously located three doors further on. Perhaps I’ll write this down, or I may just make a mental note. I’ll sit for a while and watch the comings and goings at the chosen location. This part of my process appropriately equates to note taking, and like the painter once I have a general idea of how I will interpret the scene in front of me I put pen to paper (I’m not one for dragging a laptop around or tapping away in a coffee shop as I find this insular), and start to physically write. And in this writing, I may mention that a certain character entered the jewellery shop via its black door, and the character I am writing about may, or may not be a real person I have seen do that very same thing. They could very well have gone directly from the fish mongers to the jewellers. And this throws up questions that I can explore. Why would they do this, what were they carrying, is there a link, is something fishy going on?

Stories are all around us and it is up to us to interpret them. The beauty of writing is that we are free to use as little or as much of our personal experience and observation as we dare, legally and morally.

Of course, sometimes it is just not practical to actually ‘write’ on location and note taking prevails. This could be for a myriad of reasons including time, the weather, finances or security issues.

I’ve been lucky enough to undertake a large percentage of my writing on location. I’m primarily a crime thriller writer. My hero is named Aidan Snow and is a former SAS man turned MI6 operative. Aidan Snow’s published adventures to date, three novels, a novella and several short stories, have taken place in part in Ukraine. I myself lived in Kyiv during the mid and late 1990s and now return several times a year. I’ve sat, as mentioned above, in cafes writing about what I see and I have also physically walked routes that characters have taken, noting details which I hope enrich my writing.

Occasionally I get a follow-up question, “what are some of the strangest places you’ve written in?’

Now I want to say, ‘read the books and find out!’ But I don’t. I rattle off a few places: Moscow’s Gorky Park, The Westin Hotel Dubai, Morristown New Jersey, Barbados, Worthing Pier, and at a bus stop opposite Kyiv’s SBU (KGB) headquarters (well in this case just note taking). And they nod and or raise their eyebrows before telling me about their most recent holiday escapades. You see unless you are a writer you can come across to everyone else as being a tiny bit ‘mad’ when you talk about craft, location and narrative etc.

BUT sometimes I just make things up.

When I’m in the UK, I’ll sit on my settee, in my lounge, watching odd daytime telly and tapping away merrily. You see if my reply to ‘Where do you write?’ had been ‘In my underpants on the settee’, this blog post would have been both shorter and less appealing to you, dear reader.

 

 

This post is brought to you by Alex Shaw. Alex can be found at Newcastle Noir this weekend.

Launch – thank you!

Thank you to all of you for your support, shares, involvement and messages during our website launch.

The launch giveaway winners have now been drawn using random number generators and have been announced on the Facebook event posts and/ or been contacted.

Going forward, we will be bringing you weekly posts on reading, writing, and all things contemporary fiction, as well as special events, discussions and debates, and, of course, more videos…

Enjoy!