HeyHey! I have been asked by the lovely Sarah Jasmon to get on the Blog Bus and join in this crazy ‘blog tour’ of writer’s blogs. This means that I must answer four writerly questions to the best of my ability – just as Sarah did last Monday after she was asked to join the Blog Tour by David Hartley. You can read Sarah’s answers here, and David’s answers here from the week before that.
Get the drift? It’s an interesting way for us all to discover some new writer’s blogs, and to pause and think about being a writer and what that entails. All good stuff. So – to the questions!
What am I working on?
I am working on final revisions of a novel – my first.
Before this I have written short fiction, and I have had a short story published in an anthology called Stations, published by Arachne Press. But a few years ago I decided to fling myself more deeply into the writing life by doing an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Metropolitan University Writing School. I was on what was called the ‘novel-writing route’ and, I have to say, it did what it said on the tin, because this novel is the result, as well as much fruitful learning, and the making of many fabulous new ‘friends-who-write’ (and therefore indulge my need to talk about writing and reading).
I have enjoyed writing it enormously and learning how to weave together such a large fictional piece. Over the last six months I have been immersing myself in learning the craft of editing my own fiction, and getting nearer to truly understanding the raw power of the phrase ‘less is more’. I have had some encouragement – I entered the Mslexia Novel Prize last September and my novel was long-listed, which was exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. It gave me the confidence to send it out to a few literary agents and now I am playing the waiting game – and playing with the idea of doing one more edit, of course.
I have also made the solemn new year resolution that I will blog more this year. So when Sarah asked me to do this blog tour out of the blue, I grabbed the chance despite having just started a new work project in my day-job. Head full. Eyes tired. But I wanted to do it more than I wanted to lie down and sleep, and that is the point, isn’t it? Writing will never come first unless we make it come first. And that is why this is here, posted, even if it is going to end up being closer to Blog Tour Tuesday than Blog Tour Monday!
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Ah, genre! That intriguing and frustrating word. My novel is in the genre of literary fiction, although it may have elements of period fiction too; it moves through several decades of the 20th century as the narrative starts in 1923 and ends in 1984.
How does it differ from other literary novels? That’s a difficult one; as a genre, literary fiction is quite a roomy suit of clothes, stretching as it does around such a wide range of literary ‘body types’ which vary wildly in style, structure and form. To be different, one may have to be as wondrously bold and imaginative as Eimear McBride or Virginia Woolf, and I quake a little when I think about that. But in his interesting blog article, Nathan Bransford says many helpful and perceptive things about literary fiction, but one particular thing he says seems to encompass what I think my writing is about:
‘in literary fiction, the plot usually happens beneath the surface, in the minds and hearts of the characters. Things may happen on the surface, but what is really important are the thoughts, desires, and motivations of the characters, as well as the underlying social and cultural threads that act on them’.
I have always been fascinated by why people do what they do, or take one decision rather than another. I trained and worked as an Occupational Therapist in my twenties, which allowed me to study the human psychology of motivation right up close, and I had the honour to be involved in many people’s transformations and journeys. Maybe that’s why I feel comfortable writing in this genre, and maybe it also hints at what I bring to it that might be special and particular to me and my past experience.
Why do I write what I do?
I would say that my writing is a way for me to try and try again to feel, explore and understand the mechanism of transformation that lies deep in the human mind and heart.
Much of my novel is set in the period that followed the second world war up until the 1960s – a time of great change in Britain as the prevailing class structure to some extent fell apart, and the fifties and sixties brought optimism, and a revolution in many aspects of living, social values, and sexual politics. A widening of opportunity for many.
Those years of rapid social evolution attract me as a setting – they give a context which makes sense of the importance of change to human existence and emotional health. But the giddy disorientation of those times created conflict too – and increased choices can bring with them decisions that test and try us. All good stuff for writing fiction!
Among my early cultural influences was that king of change, David Bowie. I admired his insistence on reinventing himself time and again, and his song Changes has become a kind of theme tune in my own life. The books I read in those early years reflect my tendency to admire people who challenge the prevailing taste of the day and alter the form (Byron, Kerouac, and Woolf amongst them). I don’t alter the form of the novel in my writing, but I think the constancy of my interest in the process of change is what makes me write what I write.
How does my writing process work?
I know that, even though I have had lots of years to practice, I am still abysmal at creating a strict writing routine; I sigh with admiration when I read writers who calmly state that they sit down at 6am each day and write until 3pm, or whatever it may be.
For me, the work has always happened in fits and starts, in between a complicated and busy other-life. Bursts of hurtling words are followed by nothing for days or weeks. Deadlines do help – the MA gave me deadlines, and they really, really help. But then I believe that the gaps help too. ‘Leave it in a drawer’ is often good advice. The action of secluding the manuscript in the drawer frees you from what you have written so that you can write it a little differently when you go back to it.
However, my novel did eventually get written – during a very busy time in my life. The writing had to happen alongside working part-time, opting for voluntary redundancy, getting married, moving house, and retraining and starting to work as a freelance copy-editor. So there is no truth in the myth that one needs to devote oneself solely to writing in order to get it all done (although it may have happened more swiftly if I had been wealthy enough to do that).
The writing process seems to happen quite organically, I think! Stories move and grow away from the original idea in quite a beautiful way. My novel was based on a real story that I read in a newspaper, but you probably wouldn’t recognise the link between that story and the finished novel. Although I purposefully change the gender and the occupation of the protagonist, just to shake myself away from the original narrative, it wasn’t really that which obscured its beginnings. It was the way that two new main characters arose, naturally yet forcefully, and took the novel off in very different directions. One of them gaily led me into the bohemian world of early contemporary dance in 1940s England, and the other made her own way into the energetic poetry scene that existed in London in the 1960s, stopping only briefly at the corner of the street to glance behind and make sure that I was obediently following her and keeping up. I love that. I am happy to follow.
TIME’S UP, and all that remains is to introduce the two writers I am handing the baton to for Blog Tour Monday next week. Two fellow writers from MMU days will be entertaining you with their answers to these same questions: Emma Yates-Badley can be found here giving ‘delightful snippets and stories from an over-active imagination’, and Dr Steve Hollyman will be very kindly coming as a guest blogger here on Writing From Under a Beech Tree, so please come back and read his words of wisdom same time next week.