Saturday, November 26, 2016

Lies, lies, damned lies - the subjective truth of memoir



Following on from the last article on the differences between memoir and fiction writing - what about the truth in memoir.  How true is your truth?

We all think we tell the truth, we know what is the truth and it's relatively easy to tell the difference between what is true and what is not. 

Here's a quote from a Buddhist leader of the Triratna Order - a worldwide group.  Sangharakshita is brilliant at analysing and drawing out the deepest meaning of certain concepts.  Here's his analysis of truth telling. In his book Vision and Transformation he starts by saying

'We all think we know exactly what is meant when it is said that all speech should be truthful.'
... and goes on to discuss this in relation to factual accuracy. He breaks down truth telling into a variety of components of which factual accuracy is one.

We've also all heard about how if there's an accident and several people are witnesses, they will all tell different versions of what happened. Sangharakshita again -
'We all tend to twist, distort or at least slightly bend facts, in the direction in which we would like them to go. ...'  He talks about adding to factual accuracy an 'attitude of honesty and sincerity.... saying what you really think.' 

Easy eh?  Until he asks whether most of us actually 'know what we think?' and asserts 'Most of us  live in a chronic state of mental confusion, bewilderment, chaos and disorder....How can we therefore speak the truth?'

Bringing this to the art of memoir writing, which I teach, I've often had people in my groups say that they're worried about whether they will remember enough, be able to write with any accuracy of events that happened often a long time ago.

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My first memoir - A Hippopotamus at the Table - Link to Amazon
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I've just written Chapter 8 of my second memoir.  I'm writing of events that happened 13 years ago (my first book was events from about 30+ years ago.) Before I started writing this chapter, I had a vague idea of the general scenario as it happened.  What came out, as I began to write, is two and a half thousand words about visiting someone in a police cell in Indonesia, descriptive passages, details, conversations. 

Out of the chaos and disorder in my head came a coherent story which is rather like Steven King and how he describes his writing process - as an archaeologist with a trowel, scraping away to uncover a story. He is talking about characters and events emerging in his fiction writing. But the mud and stones that I am clearing away are in my mind, in my memory.  This process enables me to put remembered events and all the thoughts and feelings that went with them at the time, into some kind of order, so that I can glue them together into a cogent story.  You just start writing about an event thinking you can't remember much and by magic the words tumble out onto the page and the story emerges, sometimes slowly, painfully, sometimes coming to a dead halt and sometimes your fingers fly across the keyboard.

Chapter 8 came to me slowly. After weeks of prevarication, I gave myself a good talking to and sat down and wrote the first two lines.  Once I'd done that it pretty much flowed out from there.  You could say (and I do) that prevarication is part of the writing process, that in the back of your mind you are sorting and ordering, sorting and ordering. By the time you psyche yourself up to write all those weeks of displacement have built up and here comes the archaeologist again, pulling out the precious object from the earth. The story seems to flow from my fingers onto the keyboard (it used to be my pen).

So to return to the title of this article - lies (ie fiction) and truth - what I've written is it one or the other.  Actually I think it is closer to truth.  What happened really happened, but from my own subjective viewpoint.  One of the other characters I'm writing about might remember it differently or they remember the same bones of the story, but with different angles and perspectives. That is their truth.  I can only write about mine.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Not the same as fiction

The other day a fellow writer who writes fiction said ‘but memoir writing is virtually the same as fiction – when you write dialogue, you can’t remember the exact words spoken so you make it up.’ At the time I pointed out a couple of reasons why this statement is inaccurate, but I’d like to expand on what I said at the time with a loud voice!
     As a memoir writer, I have often been told, ‘Why don’t you just tell your story as fiction – many writers do?  You avoid lots of problems that way.’  And in my local bookshop, they told me – ‘no we don’t have a special memoir section, it doesn’t sell – well only celeb stories.’
     To answer the second point first – I like reading memoir and also crime fiction, at the moment.  Crime fiction I’ve come to quite late in life.  Maybe it’s a phase.  Memoirs I’ve always liked to read, I enjoy reading stories that are ‘true’.  Often they are breathtakingly extraordinary.
     And I’ve had an interesting life, many stories to tell, better than fiction in my opinion.  I feel it’s my duty to tell some of those stories – if only for historical reference for those born after many of the events. So I’m currently writing my second memoir.  The first A Hippopotamus at the Table was set in 70s South Africa.  The second is set in the London and Indonesia of the early noughties. I’ve also been teaching memoir writing over the last year or so to small but enthusiastic groups.  So I do (I think) have a grasp of my subject area/genre.  And those of us who write memoir have a particular calling to write truth (as we see it) and NOT fiction.  We’re driven if you like. And it's not easy, it takes courage as there's no where to hide.    
     Returning to the first point - is writing dialogue for memoir the same as writing dialogue for fiction?  A resounding NO from me on that one. Here’s a quote from someone, far more eminent than I am, who teaches memoir writing – the American Professor Judith Barrington in her book ‘Writing the Memoir’:

‘…who can remember the exact dialogue that took place at breakfast forty years ago?  And if you can make up dialogue, change the name and hair colour of a character to protect the privacy of the living, or even as some memoirists do – reorder events to make the story work better, how is that different from fiction?
    Her answer to the question sums it up so well –

     ‘In memoir, the author stands behind her story saying to the world: this happened, this is true. What is important about this assertion is the effect on the reader – he [or she] reads it believing it to be remembered experience, which in turn requires the writer to be an unflinchingly reliable narrator.’

In fiction … if a writer presents it as fiction, the reader will usually perceive it as fiction. … in memoir (the reader’s perception is that there is a) 'central commitment not to fictionalise.’

Dialogue in fiction is created by the writer as between two fictional characters, they may speak in a way that imagined characters might speak, they may say things the imagined characters might need to say to move the story forward, they might even speak to the reader in first person,  but everything, both characters and dialogue is fiction, created in the mind of the writer.  That writer might even base this dialogue on other dialogues the writer has heard, but the content, the events, the character of the speakers are entirely invented.

Dialogue in memoir might seem to be made up, as the writer rarely has perfect recall of conversations from the past.  However, the memoir writer has (usually) a reasonable recall of the persons speaking, their characters, appearance, circumstances, age, social status, their attitudes and their relationship to the other person with whom they are in dialogue. 

For example, when, in my book, I wrote dialogue between myself and my then husband  in 1975, I couldn’t remember the exact wording, but I knew what we looked like, how we thought, what we knew and what our situation was in that place in time pretty exactly.  I knew the way he spoke and the way the two of us interacted, the humour, the teasing, the way we were towards each other.  Similarly with friends of different ages and acquaintances – I remember their characters, how they spoke, what their accent was and how they interacted with me and each other.

So when I write dialogue in any of my memoirs or autobiographical stories – No! No! No! It is NEVER the same as fiction.  I can stand behind what is being said and discussed and say ‘This is true.’

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Spaces In Between

'.... she trusts her reader to fill in the gaps. 'Do not underestimate the silences or breaks in a line,' she urges. Well I don't. Here such quietnesses surely amount to silent screams.'
Candia McWilliam, Guardian article re her memoir, What to Look for in Winter.

I have realised that some of my best photographs (I am a keen amateur photographer) have a lot of space in them, a lot.  There's one of a beach, in the foreground there is a large expanse of sand and pebbles, small waves spreading over wet sand, grey sea.  In the distance are small figures, paddling.  The colours are soft and muted.  It is so very British - there are no lush tropical colours about this beach. I took the picture a few years ago on a beach in West Sussex. Candia's words somehow reminded me of that picture..  I can look at it many times and enjoy the quietness, the coolness, the delicate colours and most of all the space, which gives it a timeless dreamy quality.

Sometimes what makes good writing is not what is said, what is in the foreground, it is the spaces in between. Maybe that's also what makes good art - the use of space. Pinter and Beckett were masters of this art. - was it The Birthday Party or The Homecoming where Pinter's character's show so brilliantly our human struggle to communicate with so few words spoken and so many pauses in the dialogue? The silences are heavily laden with sometimes hostility, sometimes grief or sadness.  Sometimes just boredom. Beckett too in Waiting for Godot uses silence to powerful effect.

Writing good dialogue keeps words to a minimum and leaves so much unsaid.  Just as in real life. If you listen to conversation amongst a group of people, what creates atmosphere and highlights the existential pain is not how we communicate, it is how we don't.

To be able to create that as a writer - that's what makes for great writing.

Saturday, September 24, 2016



A new memoir writing course starting in October - details below.  Please let friends know and share on Facebook.

Write a MEMOIR?  

Have you got a story that needs to be told? A big event from your life?

Do you want to explore how to plan it, write it, print it and sell it?

Do you want to know how to become an author, with a book for sale?

I’m running a Memoir Writing course

Contact me and join course at www.meetup.com for updates –
or here on my blog in the email me box


When : 6:30 - 8pm on Thurs 6th Oct  2016 until 24th Nov 2016.

Where: The Big Green Bookshop, Old Brampton Rd, N22 - near Turnpike Lane station

The cost for the whole course will be £96 (low income - discuss with facilitator/teacher.).

There’ll be 8 sessions.


Each week I’ll cover a different aspect of memoir writing – topics will be:

1. What’s your story?  
2. Plot and backstory.
3 .Beginnings (and endings).
4. Character and dialogue.
5. Timeline.
6. Truth, lies and libel. 
7. The narrator/editing.
8. Publishing, publicity and agent hunting?

I give short writing exercises throughout and constructive positive feedback about your writing.


 Seriously though? Do you really want to face the challenges of writing a memoir?

You’ll find out by the end of this course, you really will. And you’ll have FUN!

I’m a poet and an author – I have 3 books for sale – one is a memoir, which took me 5-10 years to write. I learnt a lot.  I used to teach undergraduates at London Metropolitan University and at Birkbeck University of London. I have an MA in Professional Writing.

  email:  ameryt@hotmail.com 
Put Memoir Course in the subject  line.                                           
Anna Meryt











Monday, July 25, 2016

Voice - finding your writer's voice.

 
Voice is that most elusive of writer talents and it's essential to have it if you want your writing to catch the reader's attention and bring your writing to life. It's what reviewers and agents and publishers look for.

What is voice?
Think of your favourite writers.  Think of their writing style.  Is it intimate, casual, flippant, formal, colloquial?  How do they come across to you the reader?  How do they relay dialogue, description, character?  All that is a writing style usually more or less unique to that writer. That's voice.

How can you tell what's YOUR voice as a writer?  That's harder.  We can always talk about other peoples strengths and weaknesses - it's much harder to point to our own.  In a writer's group years ago, I was told by someone who was further down the writing path than me - you've not enough dialogue, you need much more.  I worked hard to put masses of dialogue into my chapters. Then I went to do an MA and my tutor said 'Why have you got so much dialogue?  Your strength is in your descriptive passages.  Cut down on the dialogue!'     She was right and I went through my book slashing and burning - not for the first time.  And I realised I must listen to my own thoughts, feelings, opinions about my writing, my own instinct - not follow someone else's.

Here's some key questions to ask yourself to help discover and strengthen your voice.    If you're writing memoir they apply to you personally.  If you're writing fiction they apply to your main characters/protagonists. Your reader must care about you or your main character(s) - even if they don't like them.
1.   What is the dominant impression of you or your main character. What is their/your main role in life? Fireman, policewoman, catering manager, shop-keeper, writer, parent? What is it defined by?  Organised, sloppy, angry, happy, depressed, moaning, cheerful, good-natured etc?
2. What is your/your main character's physical appearance?  Large? stocky? slim? neat? messy? well-dressed?  Hippy?  Neutral?
3.  What is your/your main character's basic background? grew up where? family life? economic? education? politics? Music- pop, classical, techno, heavy metal, soul, rock?
4. Did you/ your main character have a life-altering event - as a child?  teenager? young adult? older adult? What effect did it have on who you/they are?
5.  Hopes and dreams - yours/your main character.  Will it be fulfilled?  Is it due to something missing/lacking in your/your character's life? 
6.  What does your/your character's actual voice sound like?  Loud, soft, confident, shy, accent, RP( ie BBC British)?

When I first started writing I thought I had to eliminate my voice, not write like I speak, be a neutral observer.  No, no, no. Let your own unique and wonderful voice be heard in your writing. That will catch the reader's attention.

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With thanks to VOICE by James Scott Bell.

 

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Poetry and Music Palooza for the Finchley LitFest

This was a great evening of interesting performances - if you missed it I'll post the You tube link in a moment. First I want to give you the biographies  of the performers - all fantastic! All professionals with great track records of performing :


Hilaire grew up in Melbourne but moved to London half a lifetime ago. Triptych Poets: Issue One (Blemish Books, Australia, 2010) features a selection of her poems, and her novel Hearts on Ice was published by Serpent's Tail in 2000. She is poet-in-residence at Thrive Battersea Herb Garden for this year’s Open Garden Squares weekend. Quirky, unique and unusual poetry style. http://hilaireinlondon.wordpress.com

Arup Chowdhury is a singer/ musician who plays classical-based Bengali folk songs, some combined with English folk tunes. He may be joined by a female Bengali singer. He was born and raised in Bangladesh, played Harmonium when young but also learned guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. He has two master’s degrees from London Universities.  Beautiful voice and who knew Bangladeshi folk songs could be so uplifting!

Steve Turner was born and raised in the Midlands but has lived in London all his adult life. His poetry collections include Nice And Nasty and The King Of Twist. He has written five books of poems for children, one of which is the bestselling The Day I Fell Down The Toilet. He is the author of biographies of Johnny Cash, Jack Kerouac, Van Morrison and Marvin Gaye among others. His next book, to be published later this year in America by HarperCollins, is Beatles ’66. His poetry is provocative and thought provoking yet always accessible.

Anna Meryt has had numerous single poems published in anthologies and magazines. She’s part of Highgate Poets (www.highgatepoets.com). In 2011 she won first prize in the Lupus International poetry competition for her poem ‘Bulawayo’ – about her birth place. Two poetry collections – Heartbroke (2013) and Dolly Mix (2014) and a memoir (set in South Africa in the 1970s) titled A Hippopotamus at The Table. Her blog is at www.ameryt.com

Greg Mayston sings and plays Folk, Blues and Americana on fine vintage and modern guitars of steel and wood, and is branching out into the five-string banjo.  He regularly performs with his trio in and around Reading and joins us for a solo performance. He’s a truly virtuoso guitar player and has performed at the Festival previously. Greg's playing and singing goes from strength to strength, I could listen to him for hours.

HERE'S THE LINK:  Filmed by the writer and co-producer of Gold Dust Literary Magazine - David Gardiner

________________________________________________________________ 
We were missing (she was going to come, but was ill at the last moment)
Shanta Acharya  Born and educated in India, went to Worcester College, Oxford (one of the first women) there (D.Phil).The author of ten books, her publications range from poetry, literary criticism and fiction to finance. Shanta founded Poetry in the House (1996) and hosted a series of monthly poetry readings at Lauderdale House, Highgate.  Shanta has served twice on the board of trustees of the Poetry Society in the UK. Shanta Acharya received an award at the House of Lords on 22/6/16 for a ‘lifetime of service to poetry’. Her blog is at www.shantaacharya.com

Poetry and Music Palooza for the Finchley LitFest

This was a great evening of interesting performances - if you missed it I'll post the You tube link in a moment. First I want to give you the biographies  of the performers - all fantastic! All professionals with great track records of performing :


Hilaire grew up in Melbourne but moved to London half a lifetime ago. Triptych Poets: Issue One (Blemish Books, Australia, 2010) features a selection of her poems, and her novel Hearts on Ice was published by Serpent's Tail in 2000. She is poet-in-residence at Thrive Battersea Herb Garden for this year’s Open Garden Squares weekend. Quirky, unique and unusual poetry style. http://hilaireinlondon.wordpress.com

Arup Chowdhury is a singer/ musician who plays classical-based Bengali folk songs, some combined with English folk tunes. He may be joined by a female Bengali singer. He was born and raised in Bangladesh, played Harmonium when young but also learned guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. He has two master’s degrees from London Universities.  Beautiful voice and who knew Bangladeshi folk songs could be so uplifting!

Steve Turner was born and raised in the Midlands but has lived in London all his adult life. His poetry collections include Nice And Nasty and The King Of Twist. He has written five books of poems for children, one of which is the bestselling The Day I Fell Down The Toilet. He is the author of biographies of Johnny Cash, Jack Kerouac, Van Morrison and Marvin Gaye among others. His next book, to be published later this year in America by HarperCollins, is Beatles ’66. His poetry is provocative and thought provoking yet always accessible.

Anna Meryt has had numerous single poems published in anthologies and magazines. She’s part of Highgate Poets (www.highgatepoets.com). In 2011 she won first prize in the Lupus International poetry competition for her poem ‘Bulawayo’ – about her birth place. Two poetry collections – Heartbroke (2013) and Dolly Mix (2014) and a memoir (set in South Africa in the 1970s) titled A Hippopotamus at The Table. Her blog is at www.ameryt.com

Greg Mayston sings and plays Folk, Blues and Americana on fine vintage and modern guitars of steel and wood, and is branching out into the five-string banjo.  He regularly performs with his trio in and around Reading and joins us for a solo performance. He’s a truly virtuoso guitar player and has performed at the Festival previously. Greg's playing and singing goes from strength to strength, I could listen to him for hours.

HERE'S THE LINK:  Filmed by the writer and co-producer of Gold Dust Literary Magazine - David Gardiner

________________________________________________________________ 
We were missing (she was going to come, but was ill at the last moment)
Shanta Acharya  Born and educated in India, went to Worcester College, Oxford (one of the first women) there (D.Phil).The author of ten books, her publications range from poetry, literary criticism and fiction to finance. Shanta founded Poetry in the House (1996) and hosted a series of monthly poetry readings at Lauderdale House, Highgate.  Shanta has served twice on the board of trustees of the Poetry Society in the UK. Shanta Acharya received an award at the House of Lords on 22/6/16 for a ‘lifetime of service to poetry’. Her blog is at www.shantaacharya.com


Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Short and the Long of it - post Brexit

Thursday night last week - relieved that at last the Referendum will be over tomorrow. There has been some press jitters about the outcome this week and the polls are looking close, too close. Still no one much in their right minds would vote for Boris, Gove and Farage would they, not in large numbers....?

I watch until 2 a.m. and a cloud of uncertainty seems to hang above the news rooms, no one wants to think the unthinkable though do they - except Boris and Farage. Gove no where to be seen.  I am becoming more and more unsettled as reports come in of 70 plus percent in the North East voting Leave.

I decide I'm too tired and I am running a Memoir Workshop at 11 a.m. for the Finchley LitFest. It's sure to change once they get more results in, it may be a little closer than expected but ...

I wake with a start at 6 a.m. and immediately reach out for my smart phone, click on the BBC News app.  No, I'm dreaming this cant be true, no non no.  There's Farage with a big cheesy grin on his face, like its Xmas and his birthday at once - how we've 'got Britain back again'.   Got it back from where Nigel? Our European friends, allies, trading partners? Our joint fair-minded law makers? I sit up and watch more and try to absorb the shock.

Then I turn it off and pad to the kitchen, holding my tea and toast, my comfort food and sitting watching RT news with a great sense of grief and loss that gradually as the day goes on turns into rage and fury. 

I get ready and go off to deliver my memoir workshop.  The first thing they all want to talk about is their sense of shock and outrage at the results. Gradually  I bring them back to focusing on their own story. Their stories are fascinating and the group bonds well.  I give them out charts that I've developed from Tony Buzan's Mind Maps.  Soon they all have a much clearer idea of what they want to write about. They do some short writing exercises.  By the end of 90 minutes the group is buzzing and all talking to each other.  Great.

I go home again to the news and for some reason I'd like to paint splatter Gove more than the other two.

Now here I am on Wed June 29th. The news over the last few days seems to be developing fast.(a) 142 Labour MPs have backed a no confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn.  And
(b) another terrorist incident in Turkey at the Attaturk airport in Istanbul - I was there in November last year..   28 Dead - how dreadful and Turkey has always been so welcoming to us Brits it feels like as much part of the EU as Italy, France and Germany (even if it's not).
Very sad and tragic.

Last night after a Labour local council candidate selection meeting (with the best turn out ever (is Brexit making people stand up and be counted?)  we adjourned to the local Victorian pub.  I had a heated discussion with 2 Labour supporters about Corbyn's position, which to me seems obviously untenable.  They were in complete denial and shouting about it. 
So politics everywhere is breaking out of its apathy into discussion and activism - that's one good thing about Brexit then.



YOU ARE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR OWN LIFE STORY


What's the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?  Let's start with that question,  where so much confusion lies. Now get this clear.  A MEMOIR is a part of your life.  An autobiography is the whole thing, the whole life.  OK.  Got that now?  Let's move on.


What's the difference between a memoir and a novel? A memoir writer 'stands behind her story saying :this is true.  What is important about that assertion is the effect on the reader - he reads it believing it to be remembered experience. ... 'if the writer presents it as fiction, the reader will usually perceive it as fiction ...'
'when you name what you write memoir or fiction, you enter into a contract with the reader.  you say 'This really happened'  or you say 'This is imaginary.'
These are quotes from Judith Barrington's book, 'Writing the Memoir'.  It's important to remember the distinction. 

I wrote and published a memoir last year, it began when I went to South Africa in June 1975 [A Hippopotamus at the Table] and ended when I left in Dec 1978, so, it covered two and a half years. That was my timescale. I've had people on my memoir writing courses who's memoir timescale ranged from two weeks long to seven years.  If you've got enough material in what happened to you, to write a book covering only two weeks - go for it.  My next memoir will cover a period of 3-6 months. The good thing about memoir writing is that you may only want to focus on the one event - you've had something interesting happen to you and that's the story you want to tell.  But if you've had an interesting life -  you can break it down into several memoirs. 
For those who want to explore the idea of writing a memoir further, if you're free - come to my next course.  What's important at the beginning is that you've got a story you want to tell and you want to know how to do it.  The course will get you started on the road to exploring that.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Memoir course starts this week


Have you got a story that needs to be told? A big event from your life? Do you want to explore how to plan it, write it, print it and sell it? Do you want to know how to become an author, with a book for sale?
I’m running my next memoir course starting at 6:30 pm on Thurs June 2nd 2016. There’ll be 7 one hour sessions, the venue will be in North London/near Turnpike Lane station (At the Big Green Bookshop). See My Memoir Course at Meetup for costs and enrolling.

Each week I’ll cover a different aspect of memoir writing – topics will be:
1. What’s your story about? Your voice... 2. Story-telling, the Narrator, plot and structure. 3. Character, description, dialogue. 4. Let’s look at genre, culture, background. 6. Truth, lies and libel. 7. Editing and thinking about publishing?

I will be at the Big Green Bookshop one hour before the course starts for those who want to ask questions and pay.  Payment for the course is in advance.  There will be a refund opportunity at the end of the first session if you decide the course is not for you (although £10 will be deducted from the full amount)

I'm looking forward to hearing your stories...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Oh you people, I see God in the flowers, And you see Him in the graveyards.

'They accuse me of atheism!
Oh you people, I see God in the flowers,
And you see Him in the graveyards,
That is the difference between me and you.'


Omar Mohammad Batawil was a 17 year-old freethinker from Yemen, who shared his thoughts and criticism of religion and religious scholars and institutions on his facebook page. He was accused of apostasy and murdered on April 26th by an Islamist group.

I decided to write about this a few weeks ago and now I can't remember why.  Was it because this young man's death was so shocking.  Partly, Most of all I think it was the beautiful simple words he left behind.  Today they are rioting in France :



'The demonstrations as well as work stoppages, notably in the aviation and public transport sectors, were the latest actions in a protest wave that began two months ago.

Opponents of the reform, billed as an effort to reduce chronic unemployment - which stands at 10 per cent overall - say it will threaten cherished workers' rights and deepen job insecurity for young people[Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article].


10% unemployment and they riot in France.  In Zimbabwe, the economy, destroyed by Mugabe makes it now the second poorest country in the world.  For 10+ years now unemployment has been at 90%.  YES that's 90%.  That's why 82% of the wild animals ranging the reserves and plains there have been destroyed -  hunger and starvation of the human population. Animals are food or tusks.

Meanwhile Syria, once beautiful has been decimated, the ancient monuments of Palmyra bomb blasted and traumatised people are fleeing to the West, looking for sanctuary.  Women and children have seen torture and beheadings and the ones that have made it to Europe are damaged and traumatised.

And in the midst of all this Omar Mohammad Batawil, a 17 year old from Yemen,  writes beautiful words and is murdered for them.   He sees God in the flowers and so many of us see God (whatever version you choose) only in the graveyards.  Maybe that's when we notice our spiritual selves, when death confronts us.





Monday, May 09, 2016

Smells, Sights, Sounds, Describe

The smell of summer rain on grass after a warm day, seeing the colours of the new leaves in my garden (red maple, crab apple blossom, pale greens) as spring moves forward, hearing the soft breeze rustling the leaves of the trees in a wood, the slightly metallic smell of exhaust fumes on a busy London street, seeing the pollution haze over the city, hearing the sound of a lorry rattling past on a busy London street, the smell of onions frying, coffee brewing, cigar smoke, hearing a helicopter circling overhead, seeing a red umbrella on a grey cold wet London day, a lake reflecting the willows on its  banks ...

It's easy sometimes when you're writing a story to forget smells, sights, sounds.  But they bring a scene to life, bring the reader there - I bet when I mentioned frying onions you could smell them. That's all you have to do, mention them, no long flowery detail and it's like freshening up a room with a new pot of paint.  

And I nearly forgot one of the senses - taste - why are cooking programmes so popular - we watch them and salivate with the celebrity chefs - imagine eating a slice of those beautiful cakes, like works of art  - in Bake Off, light sponges or pastries that would melt in your mouth....

So next time you're reading a book or writing a scene - look out for SMELLS, SIGHTS, SOUNDS AND TASTES.  If you're the writer put them in - just a sketch, a light touch and see how it transforms the scene.  Or if you're the reader, look out for them and how lightly or detailed is the description. What's the effect on you the reader? Try it - describe a flower, the taste of candyfloss, the smell of the sea ...








Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Character and dialogue and Stephen King



I've been reading Stephen King (one of the best selling crime writers in the world) in his book On Writing and his thoughts on character and dialogue.  He has some strong opinions.  He does not believe you should describe people's clothes or appearance too much.  Rather you should leave it to the imagination of the reader, a few broad brushstrokes - not every spot and pimple. He gives examples and I can see his point clearly.  He creates a scene - a dark bar, throws in a few people - you don't want the story held up by long descriptions of those characters - they are there to paint the scene, create the atmosphere, perhaps they'll be part of the plot, perhaps not, we don't know yet.

So as I'm sitting here in my local café, drinking my green tea I thought I'd try a bit of character description about a few people passing the window or sitting at the bus stop.  You can tell me if the character appears lifelike or not. It's been snowing on this April day, so everyone is wrapped up to the eyeballs - it should be Spring, the blossoms are on the trees and we're all sick to death of our winter clothes. 

Quite a few people are passing up and down the pavement and it's actually quite difficult to describe them without a situation to put them into. Which is exactly what Stephen King was saying - when he writes a new book, he starts with a situation and a couple of characters in that situation.  He says then he's like an archaeologist with a small trowel, digging and releasing bits of the story and he often has no idea how it's going to end.  The characters and how they handle the situations develop a life of their own and he says that often the ending surprises him, he didn't see it coming. So for all those how-to-write books or those who like to plan everything in advance - chew on that!  STEPHEN KING DOES NOT PLAN HOW HIS BOOKS TURN OUT.  HE DOES NOT SIT DOWN AND WRITE OUT A FRAMEWORK AND A PLOT before he starts writing a book.  Writing a book is not about planning and following a prepared design or formula.

There's a woman leaning against the outside glass next to me, she has limp blonde hair, the corners of her mouth are drawn down, she's wearing (you see I DO want to describe her clothes) bright pink and black patterned leggings and a thick long grey woven coat.  She has two bags of shopping and  is smoking a thin rolled cigarette. She has the look of someone who's got a lot to think about.

Now if you were a novel writer where would you place her in your story?  And although I see Stephen King's point about leaving much of the description to the reader's imagination, maybe it's an author gender difference but I like some clothes description.  Those bright black and pink leggings were a bit of a statement weren't they?  They say, this woman is not shy and retiring, she's got the confidence to wear striking patterns and colours. And leaning against the café window having a fag - that's a statement too - I'm tired and I don't care what you think, I've had a difficult day.  And when I get home I'm going to pour myself a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and throw a steak under the grill and damn the lot of you.

Actually can you see what's happening here - Stephen King's right, my little silver trowel is already beginning to dig around and to weave a story around the woman in her pink and black leggings.  I was just thinking, what situation shall I put her in - but that's the wrong way round for Stephen King - he starts with the situation, then the characters.  Still the woman is beginning to inhabit my mental landscape, there is a story forming around her.

A short story I wrote before, came about when I was given a postcard at a writer's workshop - it was a photo of a young girl in a winter coat with a large star of David attached to the front of the coat.  A Jewish kid from the ghetto before World War II.  A whole 5000 word story emerged from seeing her on that postcard. She and her story came alive in my mind, it wanted to get out, it had to be told.

The thing is, although Stephen King's words echo in my head and he's certainly got me reflecting, he's writing about his own writing processes (which is useful to hear about), but we all have different ways to create on that blank page in front of us.  From what I've read in his book so far I think Mr King would probably agree with me.  He's not writing a rule book for writers, rather he's musing about his own (and other writers he follows) writing processes and trying to delve into how it all works.  And I thank him for that. Now about that woman in the black and pink leggings ... who's she going home to?  Where's my silver trowel?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An invitation to a book signing in N8 and Prevarication .... how to wallow in it...



An Invitation

On Saturday 23rd April 2016 -

a talk and book signing.

at Hornsey /Crouch End Library at 3 pm. 

Missed my book launch ? Come to this event

Prevarication and why you should wallow in it ...

If there's one thing I'm good at above all else  ...I'm also good at justifying why I prevaricate. My mind is dead sneaky at ducking and diving to avoid starting (or finishing) ANY project, particularly any WRITING project until I'm at the razor wire edge of the deadline.  The thing to remember is that quite often while you're doing all the displacement, prevarication your brain (well mine anyway)is working over-time, processing, cooking, developing, perfecting what it's about to create.

So if you're at home,  do whatever you need to do - I know I absolutely HAVE to wipe the kitchen surfaces before I can sit down and write.  When it comes to - OK I have to stop doing all this stuff, - I take myself off to the library, the cafe wherever, where there's no cleaning, cooking, sorting, tidying to distract me. . 

Of course even when you're out, prevarication can get in the way all the time too.  Take the British Library. Yesterday.  First as the place is rammed with students preparing for exams etc on the outer bits, all the desks taken up, I decide to go to the reading rooms - lots of room there.  Down to the basement, take everything out of rucksack and put in clear plastic bag, then find a locker to put stuff in, then find a pound coin, then go back up to the third floor reading rooms. Half an hour. Then deal with texts, emails, Facebook - half an hour.  Work through list for 2 hours.  Tick, tick, tick. going through the to do list.  Getting there. 

Take a break for a snack and a drink.  Have to go outside the reading room and in the corridors for that. Get back in and its 4:45 pm. I'll work until 7 pm. Good. The girl next to me says-  you know the reading room's shutting at 5 pm? (No...) Yes the library is open until 8 pm, but not in here..  So much for that plan.[ Later found out it's only one of the reading rooms that shuts early.]

Back to the list.  So 5 hours work is reduced to 3 in total.  That's a good day.

Some days I can spend all day prevaricating.  Some people think that when/if they stop the 9-5, finally retire whatever, they'll have all this free time for writing. Yeh. I wish. The days fly past.  Something that you think will take a day takes a week.  Something that should take an hour, takes up a day.  You don't have to rush in the morning, you take longer to get going, watch the news, Heir Hunters, Home Improvement, check Facebook, shower, make a late breakfast.  Suddenly, it's midday and you won't get out to the library until 2 pm.

You see prevarication runs you, well ok me then.  The world is full of stuff to do, distractions. And I’m more than willing to follow their leads. But I still maintain it’s all part of my creative process. I must get past the prevarication sometime....

How many books have YOU finished and published after all?

Click link to my books on Amazon.