Saturday, 13 August 2016

bird by bird - Anne Lamott

Many writers know the tyranny of the blank page - and not just at the start of a piece of writing. It's a strange and magical trick to conjure up something seemingly from nothing, and then believe (that's one of the most important parts) in its reality so much that you stick with it and eventually it will become real to other people too. Small wonder then that writers are always on the hunt for inspiration, both in terms of ideas for writing and ideas about writing. 

Every writer worth their salt knows of Stephen King's book On Writing, but recently a poet, Penny Shutt, introduced me to Anne Lamott's bird by bird: Instructions on Writing and Life. 

You can - and will! - find oodles of reviews on life. I'll sum up what I feel are Anne's key messages in a few bite-sized pieces:
1. Write what's true for you. Bleed it on the page if necessary.
2. Writing is not a cerebral process, not entirely. It involves sweat, angst, effort and those master tricksters, joy and sorrow.
3. Writing won't give you whatever you feel life has denied you. Its purpose is to give you a means of discovering what's true for you, finding it within and out there in what passes for 'the real world' and then making magic with it on the page. 

What seduced me about this book was the very material that some critics loathed.* All that 'life' and 'God' and 'emotional' stuff that are universal themes and also intimately personal ones for the author. If you don't like her truth? Tough. That's the point. We can only write our own words our way and then see where they take us. Anne Lamott is both an author and a teacher / lecturer, and both come through the text. She may have earned the right to tell it her way, but that right is bestowed by all of us upon ourselves.

She writes about death and loss and elation and jealousy and all that good stuff that makes us truly human. (Show me a giraffe who's jealous of another one and I'll concede the point.)

It's a book about the process of stringing together words and not only what brings you to the writing desk in the first place, but also how what happens next can affect you.

Here's a link for bird by bird.

* When we start out as writers it can be tempting to look ahead to the validation of publication bidding war, or all those approaches from the film industry. However, writing isn't a substitute for life and nor is it a passport to a different self. That may happen, over time, if we work at our craft, and even then my personal opinion is that our potential is capped by a number of things (life experience, character, time, education, opportunity, connections - yes, for most of us that is a major factor, etc.) that are less malleable to our will than we are comfortable with. But...writing and reading will give depth to ours lives and deepen our understanding of the world around us and the people who inhabit it. When every stranger is a possible character or inspiration, if we're paying attention, how could it be otherwise.

If you are a writer who's stuck, who maybe feels robbed of their dues, or who wonders what the heck they'll do if their latest book gets no further than a hard drive, bird by bird may be the book to seduce you with writing all over again.


Monday, 1 August 2016

Daylight - finishing a new novel

Light at the end of a celestial tunnel.
I know; why a 'new' novel and not simply a novel? Well...it's different. Not better or worse, just a changed experience - like my parents must have felt with a second child. You feel you know the ropes a bit more and you swear that you won't make the same mistakes again. No, you'll make different ones.

This time around I've just completed Shadow State, the fourth novel in the Spy Chaser series. Author Susie Nott-Bower said to me recently, "You must be very fond of Thomas and Karl by now." It's true, and that brings its own challenges. 

Shadow State answers some thorny questions about Karl McNeill's past and Thomas Bladen's choices, and plays with that old chestnut: the same but different. While I'd like to think my thrillers can be read individually there are certain threads that run through them and I started the series with the clear intent that the actions of one novel could have consequences in the next. In the previous three books I've referred to the Shadow State and its goals; this time we get to see some of its inner workings and how it recruits. I have also played with some of the staples from previous books (no, not those kinds, silly). Expect the odd role reversal and false start. Some things remain - the humour, the espionage and the swearing. If you enjoyed Standpoint, Line of Sight or Cause & Effect - and preferably all three - I venture to suggest you'll appreciate Shadow State.  

As I type this Warren is wearing a beta reader hat and Sarah is waiting to find out what happens to the character she named: Theo Pritchard (she can explain that herself). 

Things I plan to do in this window of opportunity between beta feedback, teeth-gnashing edits and submission to Joffe Books:

1. Submit my standalone novel, Scars & Stripes to three agents and three publishers.

2. Reformat the PDF version of superhero club.

3. Look at podcasting.

4. Plan my next newsletter.

5. Smell the roses.