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Detour

Well, that was a slightly longer gap than it should have been. The truth is, that while I’ve been doing a fair bit of writing in the last (gulp) nine months, most of it has not been fiction based. I’ve been working fairly hard at the day job doing a lot of academic writing. 

I have had one interim success, which was the publication on Every Day Fiction of one of my shorts. To be honest, I completely missed the actual publication day and found out some time later. 

It’s ironic that the last post should have been about the completion of the novella draft. It was so dreadful I haven’t revised it. Mostly because I realised that the reason that I hadn’t been able to write the book I wanted to write was that the heroine was actually in love with the wrong person. Or possibly that I had crowded my hero out by inserting in someone else. So while I’m thinking about how to fix that (and I have some ideas) I’ve started work on a new story set in the same world, which is probably going to end up in the novelette category (i.e. it’s going to be about 10k when done). I’m enjoying it, and my new heroine, who is much more kick-ass and much more in charge of her own life. 

This year the one new year’s resolution I’ve managed to stick to (so far) is to read 100 books by women before I read any by men. I’m about 25 in so far, and one of the interesting things is that I’m not finding any problem in finding things to read. There are maybe two or three books which I’ve come across this year that I’ve really wanted to read but have had to put off. I am perhaps reading a slightly different range of things than I would have done – less literary fiction and fantasy and more sad books, but that’s partly because I bought two ten packs of books from the Book People and that means reading what they sent! I have another 35 books lined up to read before I have to start thinking about finding some new ones. There are probably another hundred books scattered around the house which I haven’t read, some of which are also by women. This is a frightening statistic, although if you don’t tell anyone, no-one will know. 

In that line, anyway, an interesting Guardian books podcast on women and women’s writing: 

http://www.theguardian.com/books/audio/2014/mar/07/barbara-taylor-bradford-sheila-heti-women-in-literature-podcast

Enjoy 🙂 

Free!

The ebook of Journey to Crone is available for free on Amazon today and tomorrow, in both the US and the UK.

photo (11)

As I may have mentioned before, there are some much better poets than me in it, so it’s definitely worth downloading if you have a Kindle/ Kindle app. The paperback is also discounted until July 1st if you order it through the Chuffed Buff Books website, down to £5.99 + shipping.

and productivity!

Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend:

‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.

Identities

[Two posts in two days? Anyone would think it was a bank holiday weekend.]

Yesterday I posted something quite long which I had intended to link to on my twitter account, which is linked to my other life, the dayjob, because people who follow me there might be interested. But I didn’t, and it was because of a slight crisis of ‘do I have the right to call myself a writer?’

This isn’t a secret blog, and my name is the same as it always is, so anyone who knows me otherwise and stumbles across this, will know it’s me. But I still wasn’t sure about directly telling people about it.

Can I claim to be a writer? I haven’t published a novel, or a non-fiction book, and although I have more credits than appear on the ‘published work’ tab (mostly because I’m bad at going backwards in time), it’s not like I’m missing anything major. And I suppose at least part of the dayjob involves writing.

One of my new colleagues asked me the other day if I wrote poetry. I was so surprised I’d admitted I did. Then he asked if I’d had any published. To which I said yes, again. Then he asked if he could read any. To which I said no. I felt extremely embarrassed. It’s as if it’s easy to send out work to people who may reject it or judge it badly if they don’t know you, but the idea of being face to face with someone knowing they’ve read your work, and who knows you know they’ve read your work… brrr, shivers up the spine.

It took a long time to admit that what I wanted to do was write. Even though everyone else who’d ever met me knew that. Setting up this blog and claiming to be ‘a writer’ was another step forward. So why do I feel like I’m justified claiming to be a writer?

Well, there are different pathways to that identity. One is publication. I am published, in fairly minor ways, in various places, but I think that I would follow Andrew Cowan (in the previous post) in saying publication = book. You can call yourself an author (or a poet) when you have a book or a publishing deal.

Another is counting something else – spondulicks. I make a reasonable supplement to my income by writing. Mostly I make money by writing non-fiction educational materials, but I did earn £6 from selling poems last financial year (and let’s face it, in terms of poetry, that puts me in the 1% 😉 ). I realised that I probably had the right to call myself a writer on this basis when filling in a survey sent round by women’s writing magazine Mslexia which asked me how much I make from writing each year. When I looked back at my income I realised that I make a substantial proportion of my dayjob salary all over again from writing. Not enough to make me rich, and certainly now I’m wondering how on earth I managed to squander it all! But enough to validate this: I am a writer. I’m an academic too, but I’m a writer.

So why can’t I let people know that?

 

Make Good Art (even if it doesn’t pay)

There have been two highly distressing anti-arts news stories this week: one from the US and one from the UK.

The first came two days ago in the form of an interview with two married artists (one poet, one musician) from Minnesota, who are under investigation by their state’s tax authorities. The argument boils down to: you can’t be a serious artist, because you’re not making enough money, so this must be a hobby, and your expenses are therefore not tax deductible. Art is only art if it makes a profit after a certain amount of time, and if it doesn’t you must stop and go and get a job in a biscuit factory.

The second one was a speech given by the UK Culture Secretary of all people, Maria Miller, who insists that culture must contribute to the economy. Sam West, Chair of the National Campaign for the Arts wrote eloquently about this here. Miller said government funding for the arts is less than 1% of total government spending in the UK. In fact it’s 0.01%.

The thing about arts funding from the government is that arts that are in themselves profitable and of direct economic benefit don’t need funding. The arts that need funding are the ones that don’t make a profit. The ones that inspire the children. The ones that benefit mental health. The ones that enable people to make sense of their lives. Art is valuable for what it is for us, what it does for us, and how it sits inside us. It’s a statement about what the world should be like. It might not pay. But it makes the world a better place in ways which money can’t buy. Because value is not the same as price (and I think I pinched that from Sam West, so apologies).

There’s only one response to make to either of these stories, once you’ve ruled out weeping in a corner and rioting in the streets. Watch this. And: Make. Good. Art.

Is it any fun for you?

Oops, long time since the last post, and apparently the one I wrote apologising for that fell foul of the fuzzy-internet-due-to-international-hacker-attack problems the UK has been experiencing in the last ten days. 

But here’s a little something you might find interesting. Should it be fun to write a book? This blog post in the Guardian suggests not. The author’s hints seem to tie in with the sentiments expressed by Janet Evanovich when I interviewed her for a student newspaper ten (gulp!) years ago. When asked if the Stephanie Plum books were as fun to write as they were to read, she retorted that they absolutely were not – they were work, and damn hard work too. I was a little dispirited by that – and I think I still am. But then, the only thing of that length I’ve ever written was my thesis, so what do I know? 

How do YOU respond to feedback?

I’ve been rewriting a lot this week. In my day job I am an academic, working in education research. I’m only a baby academic, and I’ve been working on getting my first article published. The manuscript I’ve just been revising is based on a conference paper I gave in 2010. I submitted it in late 2011. In May last year I received a response suggesting I make some quite serious revisions and resubmit it (this is a positive outcome in academic circles!). I spent a VERY long time doing that – mostly because my current job is a teaching only post, and I just don’t have time for much else. I went right to the deadline for resubmission, and got it in in November. Last week I had an email suggesting some minor last changes which I completed and sent in last night, something which cheered me up after a very bad day.

But in general reading reviews/ feedback and having to revise or redraft my work makes me feel very very antsy. I hate it. Usually once I’ve got into it, it’s all fine. I just find criticism hard to take in the first place. I know this is a personality flaw, and one of the requirements for a writing career is a hide of rhino-type proportions.

The bad thing about this is that I’m very good at giving criticism. I mark a lot of postgraduate essays, and I’ve commented on a fair few chapters of friends’ PhDs. I’m horrible about grammar, I am nearly always sardonic, sarcastic and downright rude. I do try to give feedback which improves the writing, but I am aware I do not always couch it in the nicest way (although to be fair I am _much_ more tactful with students than friends!). If it’s something I’m marking, if you follow the instructions, it will go from fail to pass, or pass to great. 

The interesting thing about revising the manuscript above, is that a lot of the comments were things I could have seen in other people’s work. I just couldn’t see those flaws in my own. The article is a thousand times better as a result of the comments – those I reworked to address and those I decided not to cave on (which included one where I put in a footnote in classical Greek to avoid caving!). It was an education. And I fully expect the next time I get as far as revise and resubmit, the feedback will be just as educational. And just as painful!