Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Getting somewhere...

Last night I wrote the first draft of my first attempt at a short story competition. Eek! It's for this month's Writing Magazine and I wrote it in one go, by hand, in my front room, while my delightful husband made macaroni cheese.

I can't publish it here because entries must be unpublished but I'm pretty sure I'll near re-write the whole thing anyway so I may post the first draft once I've done that. But I have to say it was a relief to write something from beginning to end.

The competition is based around an opening line as follows:
"Is this seat taken?" said a softly spoken man whom Veronica had never seen before.*

Not exactly Shakespeare, but still. It's a beginning. So I brainstormed a few possible scenarios, trying to avoid cliches (I hear they're rife for new writers), predictable situations (doctor's waiting room, blind date, etc, etc) and anything with the whiff of implausibility (he's a spy! An alien! etc, etc).

On second thoughts, there's nothing wrong with implausibility (I'm now questioning if that's even a word...), I just want to start out writing something believable and save the wild imaginings for that comedy sci-fi novel I started writing when I was 15 (involving an upside down world where people live closer to the earth's core because the surface has frozen and all the colours are reversed - so the sky is green, land is blue, that kind of thing. I can't remember quite what was funny about it, but there was a baddie and a goodie and a love story in there somewhere. Maybe I should dig it out...)

Which leads me onto the thing I said I'd do in my last post which is put up some scribbles I've written in the past for potential feedback, self-critiquing and general entertainment. But I can't find any of them. So that might have to wait. Another good reason to start writing new stuff I guess...

Stick with me people. I promise it'll get better. The beast inside is being unleashed with every letter I type...


* NB: In the magazine, it said that the possibilities for this scenario are endless, but I'd have to disagree, for two reasons (tell me if I'm being obvious/getting pedantic):
1. Names are limiting, to both era, trends and social background - could you imagine a royal called Jordan? Probably not, unless it's the Prince or Princess of...Can you imagine a mixed race, chain-smoking, 21-year-old mother of ten by four different fathers named Veronica? I think not. So already we're placing certain limitations on who the female character can be, and therefore how she can behave/what situations she might be in (incidentally I like the sound of the 21-year-old...might save that for a future story. She'd have a few tales to tell, wouldn't she?).
2. The implication of the statement "whom Veronica had never seen before" is that she is in a situation where she expects to see only people she knows - i.e. somewhere she goes regularly. Again, not so endless after all. How many places do you go to on such a regular basis that you expect to know pretty much everyone you see? See what I mean?

I'm not complaining, I just think it's interesting that a supposedly "endless" amount of possibilities can suddenly narrow considerably with just a little bit of thought...so what scenario did I choose? You'll have to wait to find out! Ha. Tease.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Inspiration #1: Good golly, Miss Molly

Image Copyright BBC

A huge part of what I've discovered from reading about writing (yep, I'm still doing that instead of actually writing...) is that, to be a good writer, it's absolutely necessary to be interested in everything. Which is interesting, because I think that's kind of what it means to be a good journalist too - and I trained as a journalist when I left college. Ever the practical teenager (yes, they do exist), I triumphantly told my A-level history tutor that I didn't need to go to university to become a journalist, it would take far too long and I just wanted to get on with it. So I did. I worked in local newspapers for two manic, eye-opening, challenging, stressful and occasionally fantastic years. My first editor gave me the confidence to write - in my interview I told him I didn't want to work in newspapers at all, that I just wanted experience so I could go off and write for the NME. Fortunately for me, he'd had the same idea when he became a journalist (although the fact that he was still in local newspapers escaped me at the time) so he took me under his wing and duly became my mentor. I still want his approval for everything I do, yet I hardly ever speak to him. It's amazing what influence the right person at the right time can have on your life...

But I found that the more I wrote news, the less headspace I had for everything else.

Now I work part-time in radio and the main thing I focus on is music local to my radio station. So all the rest of the time I have headspace for the 'Everything' needed to feed the urge to write.

Today it was Molly Parkin on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs - oh my, if that isn't a novel waiting to written, a film waiting to happen...Or several films. Or a TV series even! Or a three-part novel like Roddy Doyle's fantastic trilogy about Henry Smart. I loved her crackly voice, coarse with years of drinking and fast living, her way of speaking so directly, mincing no words, fearing no foe. She wrote many novels, and published a memoir about being abused by her father - but she never once sounded preachy or needy - just a woman, making her mistakes in public, turning them into art and living out a dream world of her own making because, well, because she could. Although I don't necessarily agree with all of her morals, her spirit is unequivocally the inspiartional kind us writers search for. She's my new heroine...although I haven't started writing the last one yet...more of that in another post.

For today, Molly Parkin: I salute you! Listen for yourself and you'll see what I mean...

Molly Parkin on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hello? Is it me you're looking for?

Probably not. But now I'm here I may as well write something, as the little 'no posts' sign on my blog is so accusatory I can't log on again without doing something about it.
You may realise by now that I am not an experienced blogger. This is my first blog, and as you can see from my profile I started it mainly to get me out of a prolonged period of writer's block.
Now that I'm here, I'm engaged the age old battle of the self - what do I write? What do I want to write? Can I write? Is it worth writing? Is it worth reading...? The fight goes on.
It's not that I expected to have inspiration just because I now have somewhere to 'publish' it. For years I've resisted the Facebook, Twitter, blogging phenomena. Not out of spite or snobbery, just because I always thought that my thoughts are for me and my nearest and dearest, so why would anybody else want to read them?
All that's changed is that - if you're a 'secret scribbler' you'll know this - it gets to a point when you are constantly dreaming about writing something, anything, the flow of words going round and round in your head like a whirlpool until it's absolutely got to go somewhere - so here it is. My first little puddle of inspiration. Writing about writing.
I've found quite a few blogs with a similar purpose, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Already some of the tips I've read have been very useful, like this one by Occupation: Writer (which is a better title and better design than mine - I'm working on it). I like the way she writes. It's not patronising and she doesn't assume we want to know. It's sort of reassuring, like a friend putting their arm around you and sharing something they've just learned. I hope mine can strike a similar cord.

I suppose the main thing you should know, however, is that my whole life I've had a tendency to the obscure. Maybe it's the product of being raised by Monty Python fans? I think that's what I want to explore in my writing. I've never understood the obsession with the mundane that has permeated TV, film and music for the past decade. There's a lot to be said for escapism - the ability to transport people to another situation, not just amplify the one they're already in and make it look gritty/sexy/raw (three words in connection with film that make me run for the nearest door).

So where was I? Yes, you won't find gritty realism here. But I hope you will find truth, and some sort of word-smithery, and a little enjoyment. I think I might start by sharing some of my writings which have never made it past my computer. I think that might help me understand what I want to write, how I need to improve, and it's also nice to give some credit to labours past, however simple and naive they may seem after years have passed. It's all part of the writer you are now, isn't it?

p.s. I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed writing this and how that daunted feeling of pure, terrifying fear about the blank blog before me appears to have dissipated with just one quick off the cuff post....I guess I've just discovered the joy of blogging! Ha.
p.p.s Nope, the Fear is back. I went to hit the 'publish post' button and my stomach literally turned. This is ridiculous....does anyone else have a similar experience before posting?! Am I just thinking about this way too much?! OK, here we go...