Monday, February 28

Nice article on character names

Here is a good short article from Bewildering Stories, a weekly ezine of 'speculative fiction' as well as non-fiction and poetry:

Names article by Don Webb

"Names are just plain convenient. As you say, how else can readers talk about characters? We’ve seen submissions where characters were named only “I” and “He” and “She” and “They.” I remember one where we had to refer to “She#1” and “She#2,” and so forth."

Saturday, February 26

Famous writers as lego figures

Cute - famous writers as a lego figures.

I think my favourites are Poe and Twain - Louisa May Alcott looks just a bit like Princess Leia!

Monday, February 21

Dubliners by James Joyce

This represents the first fourteen out of 15 stories of Joyce’s collection, Dubliners; I’ll post separately on the last and most famous, ‘The Dead’.  There is only so much that needs to be said about such a famous collection, so I’ll just pick out a couple of points that I found particularly interesting:

The stories progress in terms of the life stage of the main character, with children in the first two stories (‘The Sisters’ and ‘An Encounter’), youths in the next three, and so on.

A theme that comes across strongly is Irish nationalism, and a floundering sense of national identity.  Several strongly nationalistic characters are shown, and although this is generally not the focus of the story, it is clear that Joyce wanted to show a realistic and contemporary view of life in the city.

Another salient aspect of the stories is the strong sense of location, with landmarks and culturally familiar buildings (e.g. churches, universities) as well as pubs, houses and many street and suburb names from all over Dublin.

Characters are shown in a realistic and often quite negative way, although the narration is generally neutral.  Young characters are portrayed sympathetically, while older ones are often shown as drunkards, religious hypocrites, etc.  Where younger characters have flaws, like the spendthrift ways of young Jimmy Doyle in ‘After the Race’, this is generally shown to be not entirely their fault.  However it is clear that in all of the stories, Joyce considers the short event or series of events described to be highly significant in the characters’ lives - a turning point or  moment of truth.  Of course, the younger characters have more time on their side.

Dubliners is easy to read, and most of the stories are quite short.  It is nothing like the dense, surreal text of Ulysses, and makes for a good introduction to Joyce’s work.

Saturday, February 19

So you want to write a novel?

People who are writing/'finishing' a novel' are not really like this, are they...?!  So funny:

What is it about the 'being' of being a novelist that attracts people?  And with e-publishing taking off, will the appeal be the same without the hope of producing a physical, printed book? 

Thursday, February 17

Chef's House

One of his later stories, this appears in Cathedral, by which time Carver felt that he was writing a different kind of story from those in his earlier books. It feels as if it could have been an anecdote someone (drunk) told you in a pub, perhaps because it reflects the mental state of a recovering alcoholic.  Things are just slipped in as asides all over the place.  It is a short but very interesting and experimental work.

The story is essentially a sad one: there is a desperation to it.  A couple briefly getting back together in an untenable situation (living for free in Chef’s house) manage to achieve a brief happiness, staying off the drink.  However, the recovery of their relationship becomes confused with the idyllic situation they find themselves in.  The restart of their marriage bears a strong analogy to an alcoholic's fragile attempt to stay dry.  Carver, of course, struggled with alcohol for much of his life.

Monday, February 14

Clare Wigfall quote

"I love short stories. I love to read them. I love to write them. I have known that junkie craving one can feel as you work your way through a brilliant collection, aching for the next fifteen minute/half hour slot of time when you can sit down and read a story through in one sitting, hitting the high with its conclusion and feeling the effects long after you’ve left the story behind.

I do honestly believe that short stories, in their small, compact way, make the world a more beautiful place."

 - Clare Wigfall, author of The Loudest Sound and Nothing (2007). 


Matisse quotes

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

"Creativity takes courage"

“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.”

- Henri Matisse 

Sunday, February 13

The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother by Gabriel García Márquez

A longer story - and a very powerful one indeed.  Márquez is obviously better-known for his novels, and this is one of his earlier works, but it makes it into the list of 75 best short stories at The Short Story Campaign.

So, the story.  In the desert, there are two surviving members of a family in a huge mansion.  A girl, Eréndira, looks after her grandmother like a servant, but when she accidentally causes a fire that destroys the house, her grandmother forces into prostitution to repay her debt.

The house was far away from everything, in the heart of the desert, next to a settlement with miserable and burning streets where the goats committed suicide from desolation when the wind of misfortune blew.”

There proceeds a surreal and shocking account of the pair travelling the country like a circus, with a troop of Indian servants, the remains of her father and grandfather in a casket, and a steadily building collection of artifacts to replace the lost family treasures. Everywhere they go, a long line of men builds up waiting to use the girl for 50 pesos a time.

Stunningly bizarre turns of phrase (see quote) and a novella-length story.  The plot is basically quite simple, but the story deserves the long, rich telling.

Saturday, February 12

Believe me by Ali Smith

I love Ali Smith's short stories and this is an excellent example - short, poignant, experimental.  It forms part of the wonderful collection, ‘The Whole Story and Other Stories' - the names of her collections really sparkle! 

It's told in an unconventional style, alternating ‘I said’ and ‘you said’ in direct speech, like a kind of twisted anecdote.

The story is primarily a playful conversation between a couple, both of whom are humourously inventing an affair.  As the tit-for-tat jokes develop, they begin to compete over the same imaginary lover.

It could all be written in the 3rd person - it would make no basic difference to the story and it wouldn’t be necessary to change anything except to substitute ‘(name) said’, but the use of the 1st person makes it intimate and vivid.  You really feel like you are seeing a slice of real life, and while there is very little 'plot' - the action comes from the human interaction.

Emotionally it gives the sense of a warm, strong bond between the pair who can comfortably explore this kind of fantasy together, but there is also a slight edge to it - the gay female lovers are both inventing a affair with a man, a conventional rather than romantic alternative reality, which perhaps is intended as a comment on the way a gay person may feel socially pressured to hide or fabricate parts of their life for greater respectability.

Life writing

In my OU creative writing course, I am moving on to a section on 'life writing'.  It's the one area I haven't attempted before - unless my sporadic attempts at keeping a diary (at secondary school) are counted.

In fact, I didn't even know what life writing was.  On further investigation, it appears to be what is better known as biography and autobiography, but also includes travel writing, diaries and some personal essays.

My wife enjoys reading biographies of writers and I have generally left that to be 'her thing'.  My tutor asked me to think over the biographies I have read - embarrassingly few!  I can probably count on the fingers of one hand, and even then I am being fairly liberal about what is counted as an autobiography - 'Boy' by Roald Dahl?  'Trying to save Piggy Sneed' by John Irving?  Some essays on writing by Gunter Grass?  David Copperfield?

At least with poetry I could make up for lost time by reading a lot of poems in a short time.  With this section, I'm going to have to get speed-reading.

Thursday, February 10

A dirty secret

Writing is often treated, especially by new writers, as a kind of dirty secret: something they don't like to admit to in public.  This may be because a new, inexperienced writer who does the opposite - tells the world about their writerly-ness and creative potential - is likely to come across as very annoying!

Of course that sort of attitude could be found in any artist.  Has anyone met a visual artist who thinks that the world owes them a living - a creative genius before they have actually achieved anything?  Yes, me too!  However, at least they can (in most cases) point to an art diploma.

Partly because of the way writing is (not) taught in schools, a lot of beginner writers seem to have misconceptions about the amount of work required to do it well.  Most people can write in their native language.  They enjoy books.  It is easy to assume that you can 'do' creative writing.  This is a bit like learning the piano, and then settling down to compose a concerto.  Being able to play the instrument (or write the language) is a prerequisite, but it isn't the only required skill.

There may also be a misconception of the word 'creativity' - as if this means that all you need is to swim about in your own imagination and something wonderful is bound to result.  It will be very few writers who manage that, unfortunately.  The process may be enjoyable.  But it is much more likely to be successful if the key skills are learned, and some feedback from other writers is obtained. 

And for that, the dirty secret might need to come out into the open.

Tuesday, February 8

Guardian '10 rules of writing fiction' by millions of authors :)

Another fine article - 'rules' of what to do or avoid, many of them light-hearted and witty...

The contributions come from some big-name writers like Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford and Roddy Doyle.  They obviously had a laugh writing it, but I for one will be clipping it to Evernote.

Folding mirror poetry

I read recently about folding mirror poems - yet another form!  My recent dabblings in poetry have made me realise how many forms there are, and how much (some) poets enjoy using them.

My first thought when I read about folding mirror poems was 'what the hell?' and reading an example didn't help much!

After a bit of time on google, I discovered that a folding mirror is all about symmetry.  A poem has a beginning, middle and end.  In a haiku, these mirror each other, with a shorter but equal beginning and end.  Folding mirror expands that concept, with a larger, longer poem having start-to-end symmetry.  Read more about the form.

Poetic forms can be great fun, and having some constraints as a writer can help to stimulate creativity,  However, my first thought when reading one of these was that in terms with communicating with a wider audience, the key ideas are probably lost on any reader who is not him/herself a poet, and many who are!  In which case I wonder if they can be a distraction for a poet who really wants to share a message, or an emotion, or an impression.

Writing group

Well, I went to my first writing group this evening.  It was really useful, although I suppose everyone was slightly nervous.  Also, we could have done with some wine to lubricate the process!

I have mainly written short stories, but I decided to share a few poems and a very short piece of fiction.  The poems went down pretty well, and the feedback was useful.  Everyone seems to pick up on different things, a word or phrase that you might have not completely focussed on in a re-write.

I was impressed with what the others wrote, so I'm going to have to work hard and bring something respectably well-written next time.

Wednesday, February 2

Great article

Have a look at this article by Savita Kalhan, entitled 'Ten things I wish I had known before writing a book'.  Here's an excerpt:

  1. Join a writers group. Most full-time writers write in long periods of isolation, so it’s good to know other people in the same situation. It’s a great support network!
  2. Research your publishers...

I'm sad to say I have done nearly none of the ten things, but I'm sure she's right - especially of you want the book to be a success.  For some of us, just actually writing it would be a good start ;)

Tuesday, February 1

Random competition

A competition run by the Scotia bar in Glasgow - I have been told on good (albeit rather drunken) authority that it's the city's oldest pub!  They also have an annual Scotia Poet Laureate competition.  Nice.