If you’re following this blog you may think I’m not doing much at present, but you couldn’t be more wrong. The trouble with writing is that it just goes silently on in the background, and there’s not often much to report.
The only things worth putting here are the articles and reviews I do, and I’ve been doing less than usual, because I’m focusing on bigger projects.
If you’re not tired of my pieces in the Guardian (which are becoming a bit of a habit!) I had another one in yesterday, about Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. You can see it here, underneath the piece about the teddy 😀 :
I’ve also written a couple of letters, including one that has just gone into Writers’ Forum magazine, and I’m doing an article for the same magazine at present. It’s been commissioned, but I’m not sure which edition it will go into.
And for the rest… silence for now!
See you all again soon,
After writing that blog post yesterday evening I read most of the rest of the book, and found that it wouldn’t suit me at all. I’d be bored stiff working with the index card plans that the writer suggests.
What is excellent is the information about character building. You’re recommended to think of an incident in childhood which has started the character on their first world view, and then to build in three more incidents which reinforce that belief… before the actual story that will change it.
This is why we devour whole books… to find the little nuggets that matter.
My laptop battery is about to die, and I don’t want to get out of bed, so I’ll leave you here.
Thanks for visiting, and see you all again soon,
Here I am again, wanting to discuss the mechanics of full-length plays…
I know many of you came to see the 45 minute version of Chips (the robot play), but I have been trying to fill it out, to make a full-length play for some time now. I’m finding it quite frustrating that, in all the teaching I’ve had in writing for theatre, nobody ever discussed the problems of moving from writing short plays to writing full-length ones.
In desperation, a couple of years ago, I paid for some private tuition from David Lane, who I have huge admiration for. He gave me some very good guidance… told me that he could see immediately that I was more used to writing short plays, and said that the main thing I need to do is to put in a lot more work on character. He advised me to draw up a plan to show what each character thought they were giving to another character, and what the other character thought they were receiving. I found this difficult, without knowing the history of my characters, and I decided that I needed to sketch out the lives they’d had before the play, if I wanted to present more fully developed characters.
Other work took over, and the play languished on the back burner. Then I noticed that David Lane was again offering individual help with plays, so I decided to send him my rewrite. That’s what I’m working on at the moment (prior to feedback).
The problem is that I have been bogged down in the character work. I didn’t know how much of it was necessary, and sometimes it felt as if I was making the characters up all over again. (The problem of having written something when you had inadequate knowledge!) I searched online for a book that might help me be more focused in my character work, and found ‘Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel’.
It is exactly the book I need… or pretty exactly… I might prefer it if it was about plays instead (at the moment)… though of course it will come in for future stories and novels too. I’d recommend it very highly to my fellow Everyman writers (that were) and to those who did the Skylines course with me, and to the Salisbury playwrights I worked with. I think most of us were having the same difficulty. I’ve finally discovered how I put the missing pieces in the jigsaw. It’s going to be a lot of work, but at last I know where I’m going…
Not sure how long David is going to be waiting for this draft though…
This is the link to the recipe for strawberry covered scones, and my memories.
(You’ll have to scroll down a lot when you find it).
I don’t know why… perhaps it is because, in some part of my mind, I am still half expecting to die, but I am doing a lot of memory pieces at the moment. As many of you will know, I have done reviews for the ‘Food and Drink Guide’ for about 12 years. I love food, and want to be sure that the best recipes survive. There is a plethora of recipes that are not so good, but I promise you the ones I write about are superb! Of course you get the little family stories too, which I hope are a bonus.
Well… as I wrote before, I am, miraculously, getting better, after a close brush with death. At some stage I will start believing it! I’m writing a lot… working on a funny play, writing a new ending to Pride and Prejudice (for a competition), writing proposals for articles and books, and – of course – still writing my book about the cancer (although I think it is near completion).
Now… I overslept and missed breakfast, so I think I’d better find some…
Love to all,
First of all I should say that – if you like strawberries, or maybe even if you don’t – you should watch out for my piece in the Guardian Family Section tomorrow. It includes a recipe for strawberry scones, which are a bit biscuity, and totally delicious.
Secondly I thought that all my writer friends might be interested in feedback I just had from Ebury Press, at Random House. I’d sent a proposal and outline for a non-fiction book a few weeks ago. It’s so long since I was working on books (having taken a few years doing other types of writing) that I didn’t know if it was still necessary to include a SAE. I didn’t, because I assumed they would answer by email.
In fact I received a lovely letter, posted at their expense (which was slightly embarrassing!), advising me that most of their books come through literary agents, and that they recommend I look for representation. This is quite a significant shift in the way things are done. At one time many writers represented themselves (and I recognise that some still do). Maybe it is time to start looking for an agent though… It’s so difficult when you write in so many different mediums, because most agents exclude a lot of them. I remember, years ago, when I was young and green (even more than now :D), I got myself two agents, without realising that it wasn’t the way things worked. (I presumed that I’d get a contract when my first book was sold, and that the agent who’d sold it would become my agent at that point.) I do know now that you don’t do that, but still wonder if it would be permissible to have two… both for different kinds of writing. Nobody else ever seems to ask this, but I can’t be the only person to need it.
I’m trying to think very seriously about my career at present. When I believed I was going to die (which I did – and my doctor did – at one point) I felt really angry with myself. Even though I’ve consistently produced work that has been published or performed, I’ve also consistently produced work that has sat in a file, or on the computer, waiting for me to polish it up. Having returned to my life, and knowing that I could still have a few decades ahead, I know I must be less distractable. I’ll still do the odd talk and workshop, but they will be few and far between, as I have been putting far too much energy into them. (I just find it so hard to say no when a group needs what I can give them.)
An agent would be really helpful – and might stop me scattering my energies so widely. It is definitely time to start looking. That letter seemed like the right prompt at the right time…
See you all again soon!
Some of you will know that I’ve been ill with cancer. I’ve had an excellent response to my tablets (Anastrozole – which stops my body making oestrogen), and I am now looking at a life that should go on into middle age (no, of course I haven’t hit that yet! :D) … and old age. I am apparently in the best 5% of responses to the tablets, and – as long as I keep taking them, I should live for decades yet. (Even after decades, if the tablets stop working I’m told there will be other things to throw at it.)
I’ve been writing all through the illness… I ought to come clean and say that I am a shaman. The gift developed before I even knew what a shaman was. The book I’ve been working on is about my shamanic experiences, as related to the cancer. I’m slightly worried people might start saying I healed myself. No… I followed the conventional route, but I do know that what is done on the spirit plane affects the physical plane, so it is possible that my results were as good as they were because of the work I’d done. I also have friends who may have helped – and people prayed for me in a multitude of religions. 😀
On a practical level I avoided foods with oestrogen in (ie. soya – but it was incredibly hard, as it is in just about everything) – and I bought organic milk, butter, cheese and meat. (A friend in the science world told me that many dairies give injections of oestrogen to cows, and that it is safer to drink organic milk if you have an oestrogen dependent cancer (which I have). The official justification is that it’s bovine oestrogen, but I wasn’t taking any chances. When it came to soya I had no doubt as to the effect it can have on hormones. I used it years ago to stop my periods altogether. (How I regret that now!)
So – that’s it for this week. I’m finishing a long children’s story, which may become a book, and I’m going to be working on a play (the one I meant to do this month). I must admit that my book about the cancer took over completely, but I’m glad it did, as it’s now near to completion. I thought it would almost certainly end with my death, but now it will end with this excellent news. I am so grateful to the people who developed these medicines, and to the doctors who know how to use them. Also to the GPs I have seen, – and a big thank you to Macmillan, who have provided advice and information all the way along.
It’s ironical when you’re told you’re massively better and you still feel a bit rubbish. Just off for another nap…
I am working on a book about the experience of single parents. I have a fair number of people to interview, but if anybody reads this and would be interested in contributing their experience please do contact me.
Otherwise the book about my recent experiences is growing fast, and I am writing a children’s story, which – like all of them – is threatening to turn into a book… 😀 Next month I will be putting the final touches to my play, Chips, before getting feedback…
I’m finding it really hard to keep a good work/life balance at present. I finish the work and then, at the weekend, look round for something fun to do, and find there is nothing. I’m a social animal, and must find myself something to do when I’m not working.
Perhaps that’s the next job…
Sorry it’s taken me so long to update my blog. I am still doing a huge number of readings, talks and writing workshops, and travelling and studying a lot. I am now teaching two writing courses, in my home town of Cheltenham, so that will enable me to slow down slightly. 🙂
So? What else have I been doing? I’ve had a couple of pieces in ‘The Guardian’, in the family section – one of them today… I’ll post links to them.
The first was about my grandparents, Charles and Effie Roberts. Effie was Effie M. Roberts, the Second World War poet who wrote about life on the Home Front… particularly for women. The link is here:
Today’s piece is in the ‘Playlist’ section, and is about my sister, Miriam, who I called Minty, and the song: ‘I’m going to Barbados’.
I’ve just taught the first lesson in my writing course, and am delighted that it seems to have gone very well. I wasn’t sure who would come, but they were a lovely bunch of people, and all very gifted. I’m really going to enjoy teaching it.
See you all again soon!
OK, I’m calming down. Why I should get so het up about standards in poetry I don’t know. Maybe it’s because poetry is, to me, one of the most important things in the world. I don’t care if nobody much sees mine. (Most of it sits on my hard drive, and in notebooks). I’ll only read things if they are at least a decade old. I just love it, because it is beautiful, and I want to see that beauty going on.
I’m all for playing around with forms that have become outdated. I even had a go at writing a few pages of modernised Anglo-Saxon poetry. But iambic pentameter still works in the English language because it is a form that is natural to it. (Anglo-Saxon English must have been very different, with a huge number of unstressed syllables, which are needed by the form.) It is so different that it is like a different language, and that is why – with the best will in the world – it will never work very well with modern English.
We have borrowed a great deal from Welsh poetry now, and I’m all for it. I just don’t think that you have to throw away the baby with the bath water. We have beautiful, serviceable forms, that you can use to write about anything. (One of my first published sonnets was about morning sickness, and it was written in a completely traditional way. It’s in an anthology somewhere, where they were prepared to take a bit of a risk.)
That’s what it’s about. Taking risks. Daring to use old forms in modern ways… Not putting together a lot of slipshod lines that don’t scan at all. It makes you wonder how many excellent poets have been lost. Do let me know if you happen to know any of them….