Public Reading

Life has been a veritable whirlwind of challenges and new experiences, many a result of starting a Masters degree in Creative Writing this September, others, just life. Hopefully I’ll get the time to write about these in more detail, but I wanted* to come on and write about my first experience with reading my work in public, which I did on Monday.

I have read in public once before, at a small, informal event organised at my writing group leader, held at her house with drinks and a party like vibe. Monday was not a much larger gathering, organised by a local author, for other local writers to showcase their work (and for the self-published authors, make some sales!). It was far more terrifying than I had anticipated, and I did burst into tears as soon as I got home***, but overall, I believe that it went well (at least, that’s what I’ve been told!).

These are some of the lessons I’ll be taking from it:

  1. Practice your piece (aloud!) in advance.

    Due to last minute tweaking, university commitments family interruptions and traffic, I was unable to do a final read-through  on the day of the reading. I’d read it aloud in advance, but sat at my computer a few days before. I lip read it on the train home to check timings, I did not stand in front of a mirror in the privacy of my own home doing a dry run. Doing so would definitely have left me more confident when it came to the public event.

  2. Keep it simple.

    The best pieces read (in my mind) were linear and from a single viewpoint. First person worked well. My piece was fairly complex, and took a lot of cutting to get it within the time allocation (more on this in a minute!). It switched between two locations, indicated by scene breaks on the page, but less clear to listeners (it’s not good writing practice in general, but a few insertions of “meanwhile, over in…” may have helped). The story was located in Zambia, and I had meant to use a few gentle accents, but as I’m terrible at accents in general****, in the sheer panic of the night I forwent most of them and just ploughed through the piece. Maybe a few extra dialogue tags would have helped clarify the character interactions. I had also included a lot of medical/scientific terminology. My Science background took over, so I was fine with pronunciation, but it’s definitely an issue to bear in mind if inserting technobabble!

  3. Stay within the time frame.

    One of the positives of the night was knowing my piece finished just within the allocated time-slot. I kept the introduction short (I had pre-planned what to say), but I didn’t have to worry about evil looks from the organiser***** or pointed tapping of watches.

  4. Wear layers.

    I was fine in the café, until I stood up to read. Then my blood pressure soared and I was very aware of beetroot cheeks and sweating! Having something I could take off might have helped me feel less self-conscious. (removing my wool dress would not have helped me feel less conspicuous!!). On a similar note, staying comfortable in general removes pressures, so pop to the loo before and make sure you have a glass of water to hand.

  5. Look up!

    Even if you’re nervous, looking up at the audience makes for a much better connection and helps people enjoy the pieces better. It also projects a calmer image than may be the case.I glanced up about 3 times in the piece, even though I knew I should have been doing so more. A writer friend who was there recommended marking points in the text to look up, which is something I’ll definitely be doing next time.

So overall…terrifying, but definitely a good learning experience! Plus it can’t have gone that badly, because I’ve volunteered to do it again, and the organiser didn’t run away screaming. All positive! 😀

 

*aka. use some gained time from a cancelled lecture**

**Or really, procrastinate on the reading I should be doing.

***I think it took that long for the adrenaline to wear off!

**** My husband had mocked me earlier that everyone might think it was set in Romania. He had a fair point!

*****She’s a very lovely lady, so these would probably have been mostly in my head.

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Round 2: Lessons Learnt and Starting My Second Novel

It’s been a while since I updated and a lot has happened, though not so newsworthy to actually write about. Kids are growing (if still refusing to sleep), work is stressful, and all the usual stuff. The writing has been going well, however, although the time pressures have meant blogging has had to take a backseat to writing.

In the spirit of moving forwards, I finally trunked my first novel. I still like the story and hope to use elements of it in the future, but it’s morphed drastically a couple of times since its first inception, and whilst it’s taught me a lot, the amount of work still needed is more than I’m willing to put in. It’s a little disappointing as I was hoping to refine my editing skills by getting this story as honed as possible, but a few things made me realise that I’ll be better investing my time elsewhere.

So here’s what’s been going on:

  1. I’ve been working on my short fiction. It started as a bit of light relief from the momentus editing albatross hung around my neck, and also some last minute panics when I needed something to read to my writing group. But it’s actually taught me a lot about structuring a story, filling in details that keep the story flowing (I tend to underwrite, so this is a biggy for me), and giving me practice at the sentence level restructuring I’ve been desperate to get to practice but was no where near ready to do with the novel.
  2. I got my first set of feedback at the absolutewrite.com water cooler. Priceless. Absolutely bloody brilliant for critiques (at least the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section)! My writing group is lovely, but much more a supportive, cheerleading group, than the thorough critiques that really push ones writing forward. and this site got that corner.
  3. I’ve made my first submission. Only for a short (as mentioned, novel #1 is not going to see the light of day any time soon!)It’s still in the pipeline, but it’s for a major, paying market who publish some really quality stuff. Whilst I’m not so delusional as to expect it to be accepted, the piece has had almost universally good feedback, and it means a lot to me to feel like I stand a chance at that level. So, excited, but realistic about my chances!
  4. I’ve started Novel Number 2. It’s different from Novel Number 1, but still has some elements of style that I’ve discovered I like. I’ve also used it as an opportunity to embrace my Science/Biology background that seemed to work well in the short stuff I’ve done, and that’s got me even more interested!
  5. Further to point 4, I’ve been a-planning! After initially deciding I was a pantser, then getting exhausted with the rambling, ever changing mess of my first novel, I decided to put a bit more effort into structuring this one. Doing so has made me realise I’m not such a hard and fast discovery writer as I thought-even with my first WIP I had to stop to plot out the next chunk of story to get it clear in my mind. So I’ve embraced that amalgamated method, kicked things off with KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel Workbook, and dotted to and fro between writing and planning ahead. The proof will be in the writing, but so far it’s working well.

So, that’s a brief update on the big things in my writing. I will try to update more regularly, just…time!

Still, forging on for now! 🙂

Stephen King: On Writing

Whilst I enjoy it from time to time, non-fiction is rarely top of my reading list. Add that life and work have (rudely!) sapped my energy and free time to virtually nil of late, and you can see why I’ve not got very far through the long list of craft books I’ve bookmarked to look at.

Blogs, yes.

Podcasts, yes.

Writing books…

soon…

Honest!

However after finishing Stephen King: On Writing*, I think I need to put a higher priority on craft books.

Whilst a (self-acclaimed) short book, I enjoyed the gentle warm up with his personal history and route into his writing career. The guy can tell a story** and it’s always reassuring to hear how other people have slogged through the early days, refining their craft and getting exposure in between work and family life, before getting those breaks that build up to a successful career.

His section on writing advice is quite compact, which I liked, though will probably need to go back through to refresh , because the narrative on them is so stark.***

Some of my favourite parts/top lessons:

  • The image of his “muse” as a grumpy old man in the basement. Fab!
  • The importance of support from family (his wife in particular) and the freedom to disassociate with those that don’t.
  • A licence to spend time reading and writing, and to see oneself as a serious writer, rather than having to make excuses for it.

Some things I disagree***** with:

  • Writing groups are not always bad. I’ve found contact with other writers gives me confidence to treat my writing seriously. It gives me a time to focus solely on writing, without children, laundry, etc nagging in the back (or front!) of my mind. I can see how they can be misused, but with care I think they can be invaluable.
  • Plot can still be important. Yes, character and situation should come first, but a good plot that evolves from those things can draw me through a book. If people start with plot and work backwards to fill in the characters I think it can still work well, as long as the plot isn’t too rigid that it makes the characters flat or unbelievable.
  • A basic sense of grammar is important, but telling a good story still comes first. Now I have been put off reading indie pieces because of poor grammar, but getting every who vs. whom etc is going to annoy fewer people than unbelievable characters or bland story.

Hopefully I’m doing the book justice with these short points (we’re back on mad sleep patterns and my brain has given up on me recently), but they are just a few of the things that have stuck with me.

I may be slightly biased with how much resonated with me. I’m more of a discovery writer than outliner (he discards plans as sucking the life out of stories****, although I feel that’s a bit harsh and often wish I could plan, but I just end up writing instead), so his methods ring truer to me than they may to a hard-core planner. Even so, I think there’s something to be taken for everyone, so would highly recommend it.

If nothing else, it’s a quick, compelling read!

On Writing by Stephen King

*Not that the sample quite does justice to the rest of the book, imo.

**Well, duh! I have really enjoyed some of his fiction, although have to be in the right mood for it when it gets scary! Any hard-core fans would probably love it, because there are lots of references to the writing of specific books.

***Kicking myself a bit for getting the e-book, as print copies are so much easier to skim through for this.

****Paraphrasing, btw.

*****Please let me know if I’ve misinterpreted/misrepresented any of these ideas-as I’ve said I’m not quite on top par at the moment!

Terry Pratchett. Magical to The End.

Life has been a chaotic swirl of late, but I stopped still earlier at the devastating news that one of my (if not the) most loved and revered authors has passed away.

I was introduced to Terry Pratchett books at 16, and since then have read and reread much of his collection as I can (I must admit to shameful gaps with his more recent works, with life taking over and slowing down my reading rate).

He is one of the authors most prevalent in my day to day consciousness, with turns of phrase and images popping up repeatedly. I only need to walk past a cabbage in the shop to think of the Sto Plains and their wonderous brassica output.

Only a few days ago I referenced him in a comment about character development. If I need cheering up with something funny and light I’ll turn to one of his novels. If I want something darker, or clever to make me think, it’s there too. Fantasy, characters, science, puns, folklore…it’s there. Reading his work leaves my in awe (and at times a touch jelous), although I try to look at his progression from his earliest novels as promise that the rest of might grow similarly, albeit from a lesser starting point.

Watching the Neil Gaiman talk on Douglas Adams last week, I had already been thinking about him. Gaiman calls Adam a genius, for his insight and explanation of the world as is, and as will be. I think Sir Terry showed the same understanding; of words, of our world. But whilst Douglas Adams saw and solved the ultimate questions of the wider universe, Terry Pratchett understood our souls. From the painstaking letters of the conscientious Captain Carrot, to Nanny Oggs gleeful obscenities, these characters are the people around us. They are real, and everyone has their own favourites. My mum adores the witches; my husband, the eternal pessimism of Commander Vimes. I have a soft spot for the Granny Weatherwax and the wizards. I know of no one else who could make Death a loveable grandfather and owner of a horse named Binky, doing the conga whilst maintaining his sinister purpose.

His worlds are unique and immersive. His wordplay shamelessly brilliant.

We knew it was coming; the news off his illness has been around long enough that it seemed to fade into myth. He was still writing, still around, the world was still right, still a safe place. But now, suddenly, there’s a little hole in it, the shape of a turtle of unknown gender, carried on the back of four elephants. The man is gone, but the legend will remain. With eyes like Gimlet’s (the one that owns the dwarf delicatessen), I say let’s raise our glasses, don our Wizzard hats and jump on the table to sing the Hedgehog song at full volume.