Highgate & Radio

Just a quick update of a couple of new things this week:

I have a spooky little ghost story, Highgate, in the new issue of the lovely publication Luna Station Quarterly, which specialises in speculative fiction by women writers. It can be read online here or there are download editions to buy (with a beautiful illustration). Thanks to Jennifer Lyn Parsons and the editors there.

The story came out of my fascination when younger with the Pre-Raphaelites and their world … I’ve moved on from a lot of the work, but I still absolutely love William Holman Hunt’s paintings. We know Lizzie Siddal primarily through the images of her by others, but here is a rather stunning self-portrait: doesn’t she look fierce!

Image
(image from LizzieSiddal.com)

In other news, I’m on the Shereen Show on Radio Scotland tomorrow morning, discussing the big news stories of the week (Vicky Pryce, Cardinal O’Brien, processed meat, Hugo Chavez, payday loans and Eurovision – how’s that for variety?) with Graham Spiers, Martin Geissler and Peter Ross. I think this is my sixth time on the show now, it’s always really lively.

Off to Ladyfest Glasgow tonight to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Literary magazines, Radio, Stories

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Performance And Presentation

Yesterday I found myself repeatedly walking out in front of a small group of people and swearing at them in the accent of an American wiseguy who’s lived through a zombie plague. And by the tenth or so time, I got past the nerves and embarrassment and – somehow – I actually felt like that character. He was coming out of me in a way that has only ever happened before at a keyboard; it was a revelation!

I was taking part in an excellent workshop on Performance And Presentation, organised (and subsidised) by the nice folk at Scottish Book Trust and led by the frankly awesome vocal coach Alex Gillon. They hold these occasionally and I really recommend it for anyone who has to perform or read in public, because I found it extremely useful. In fact, it gave me a lot to think about and I suspect that parts of her advice will continue to sink in gradually.

Alex really gave it her all – I find it tiring to be ‘on’ for just a short while, but she was ‘on’ all day, encouraging us, giving very detailed feedback and seeming to very quickly grasp how to display each person’s story, poem or play to its best advantage. It was really noticeable that certain parts which passed fairly anonymously on first hearing stood out after she had given their authors some suggestions: the jokes were revealed as genuinely funny, the descriptions were more evocative, the dialogue more believable. On the page these might have worked right away, but listening to everyone else I could immediately hear how what they’d written seemed better just by being performed better (and I’m sure it applied to my piece too).

I feel reasonably confident about reading in public now, thanks in part to the weekly further education classes I run at Glasgow University where – though I do try to get people to volunteer! – I usually end up having to read out the passages we’re discussing to the class and try to perform them a little. However, I haven’t had any acting experience, unless you count my triumphs in the St Lucy’s Primary productions of Finnegan’s Wake (the ballad, not the James Joyce version) and The Broons (my Daphne was acclaimed).

But I’ve only read things in my own voice so far. When I recorded The Goode Daughter for Tramway’s Algebra journal, I couldn’t manage the right accent for a young 17th Century child on trial in Salem, so had to read it as Scottish – not ideal. So for this workshop, I took along an unpublished story which is a monologue of a middle-aged American man. In my mind, he’s got a New Jersey accent and sounds like Tony Soprano; the phrasing of the story is written that way.

When I first read it for Alex and the other workshop participants, I chickened out though and tried it in my own voice. It didn’t work, obviously. She gave me the confidence to try it as American, but of course for that to work, for people to suspend disbelief to that extent (because the accent is never going to be perfect), I’d have to really commit to it and completely believe in it myself. Any trace of embarrassment would just make the whole thing silly. I couldn’t quite match Alex’s remarkable switch from her own very posh RP voice to convincing streetwise American, but I think that with practice I can make the thing work as a funny, slightly weird performance piece.

As well as specific advice for that reading, I came away with lots of great notes about performing in general, from breath control to punctuation beats. It was also really nice to meet the other people taking part: two published novelists, a short story writer, a playwright, two poets, all of us with very diverse work. Now I just need to line up another reading so I can try it all out!

3 Comments

Filed under Literary happenings

31 submissions

Well, lately I have just been racking up story rejections. As any fule kno, this is actually good, because it means I am writing and submitting stories, right? Yeah, it doesn’t feel that good though.

So! I have decided to be proactive. I have a bunch of finished stories sitting around which have not been published, some of which I have never even sent out, as well as a bunch which need revision. I write to be read, so I’d really like them to be out there somewhere. And some of these stories mean a lot to me – I’m not saying they’re the greatest stories ever written, but I’m proud of them and I’ve put a lot of work into getting them right. My goal for this month, therefore, is to really try my hardest to find them homes, something about which I tend to be a bit lackadaisical.

Therefore, I am setting myself a totally arbitrary challenge, which I shall dub Andrea Story Submission Month or AnStoSuMo, in a blatant ripoff from NaNoWriMo (which I am not doing, but good luck to all who are). That is, I vow to submit 31 stories to magazines, websites, competitions or anthologies by the end of November.

My rules: I don’t have 31 completed stories, so some will be multiple submissions where allowed. And I’m going to try to make them all worthwhile ones, that is, to places I like, read and actually want to be published by – I’m not that interested in racking up credits for the sake of it, in Random Read By No-one Magazine or ObscureRubbish.com (hey, I could just put them online here if that counted). I’m not saying I expect to be published by the New Yorker or something! Just that I want it to be a place where my stories fit. And most likely, to find 31 places which are currently accepting submissions of a word count or theme which fits a story I’ve written, I’ll have to widen my usual horizons and find some new, interesting publications, so that’ll be all to the good.

I’m also not going to pay competition fees unless it’s a really major competition or in aid of a good charity; I understand why people set these, but I don’t have the cash to do too many and beside, it would go against the spirit of this, which is to fire away so many submissions that I stop worrying about them individually. No watching the email inbox anxiously wondering when someone will reply, no allowing a rejection to cast me down and stop me writing that day, just keep going to meet the target. And surely, if I make 31 submissions by the end of the month, surely I’ll get at least one acceptance? Surely?!?

I’m quite excited about this, let’s see how it goes. Any suggestions of new places to submit are welcome!

Leave a comment

Filed under Competitions & Awards, Literary happenings, Literary magazines, Stories

What it is and what it is not

I’ve been feeling a little low about my novel-in-progress lately and couldn’t work out why. I should be feeling really positive: I’ve made more progress with it than anything else I’ve written to date, I’ve had expressions of interest in it and over the last month or so I’ve solved some problems and really settled into a groove with the writing.

And that’s the problem – the book is now, for better or worse, shaped. There is MUCH to do, both in terms of actual writing but also, I’m not saying that the plot or structure or themes are set in stone. I’m sure I’ll change many things as I write and redraft. But in finally pinning down a sense of what the book is about and what its tone is, I realise that that means letting go of some of the things it is not about and all the ways it is not going to be written. And that act of having to choose, of having to settle on certain things, is kind of sad.

When you first come up with an idea for a book, or a story, or even an article, it exists in its most perfect, ideal form. And if you never actually write it, it will always be in that form. But no one will get to read it. So I will try to push on with my imperfect book and let go of its unwritten perfection.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Writing

Retreat, move forward

A cottage on a small island surrounded by sea; no interruptions or tedious chores; just writing and pottering about with the dog and skimming stones and cooking and eating and no phone signal and … bliss. My partner and I were both pretty tired and needed a break. Going anywhere abroad just seemed too much effort (and expense): all we really wanted to do was have time to write. So we did and it was wonderful.

My goal for this unofficial writing retreat was to rework the first part of the book. I know there’s a school of thought that you should power on till the end and then go over the entire first draft, but I felt like a lot has changed since I began, both in terms of how I’m telling the story and also due to what research has thrown up. There were a lot of fiddly problems that were putting me off the whole book because I knew they were sticking out. 

I feel like I had a breakthrough, or rather a series of small breakthroughs. I solved a structural problem that has dogged me since the very beginning and found a way to do so that is a small private joke with myself about it (though no one else should notice). I took an unsatisfactory minor character who has seemed, in her one scene, like a silly caricature and – I think – made her more like a real person. I joined up bits that have been hanging with “WRITE MORE HERE” stuck between them like a temporary hoarding. And so on. I’m really happy with what I got done and it’s re-energised me to carry on. 

Here is a picture of where I sat to write. Spot the small dog trying to lure me outside.

Image

 

And when I wanted a break, I’d go and look at this. Are you jealous?

 

 

Image

 

In other news, I spent the week before the holiday reviewing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. This is something I used to do every year, for the full stretch, until it sent me insane. After a break of a few years, I thought I could handle doing just a week … the thing is, at the Fringe, as with everything else, 90 per cent of what’s on is rubbish. Which is why proper reviews by someone with a bit of experience are actually important. But for some reason while I can easily read a bad book or watch a bad TV show or film, and still get something out of it, when I’m stuck watching an hour of bad theatre, I just want to bite my own fist off. Sometimes if you give something a negative review, someone who knows the people involved, or who just enjoyed it themselves, will leave angry comments. I wish I could convince them – and I’m sure this applies to most professional critics – that I HATE not enjoying something to the extent that it deserves a poor review. I would so, so, much rather write positive ones (although writing a scathing review is certainly more fun than writing about something which was okay, nothing special, watchable/readable but not memorable. Those reviews are absolute killers to write). Of course, I am sure I will change my tune if my book gets loads of horrible reviews. I will then declare all the critics to be idiots who didn’t even read it and can’t read properly anyway. 

Some positive reviews: 

Jimmy McGovern’s The Accused, with Sean Bean http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/tv-and-radio/tv-preview-accused-person-of-interest-1-2464089

New play, The Death Of Chatterton http://www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/scotland/festival-review-the-death-of-chatterton-pleasance-courtyard-venue-33-1-2465073

New production of More Light (I loved this play, hadn’t seen it before and now want to know more about Bryony Lavery) http://www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/scotland/review-more-light-c-eca-venue-50-1-2469210

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Reviews, TV, Writing

July update

Not too much writing news to report this month, just keeping on going … well, sort of. I have to admit I had a post-Hay Fest slump and took a couple of weeks off, then went to Hawick for a retirement party ceilidh, but I’ve pulled myself together now and particularly looking forward to going away next month for a full-on, no computers/phones/roads week of island isolation up north where my plan is to completely revise the first section of the book and, if possible, also revise a long short story that’s been sitting around for a few months.

I have been doing other work though so here’s a few links:
Book review of ‘Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History’ by Florence Williams in Scotland on Sunday – interesting popular science book.
Book review of ‘You Came Back’ by Christopher Coake in The Scotsman – lovely new novel.
Non-Olympic telly preview – I made sure to get a dig in at Fifty Shades of Grey.
A piece about the reaction to Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom (it has got worse since I wrote that: the latest “are you KIDDING me?” moment is that the supposedly brilliant TV news producer woman somehow is unable to understand basic economic concepts).

Plus a few radio appearances: Good Morning Scotland on the 28th to discuss the Olympics Opening Ceremony, Call Kaye this morning (30th) and on the 15th, the Shereen Nanjiani Sunday morning show – I’ve done tons of radio but never been on this show before. It’s quite intense, because you’re on for the whole hour and the discussions basically cover all the main news stories of the week and the Sunday papers. I really had to swot up, particularly since the other guests (veteran foreign editor David Pratt and former investment banker turned consultant Ian Blackford) are so knowledgeable – bit nervous but I think I did alright, really enjoyed it anyway.

In other news, here’s the info for the writing workshop I’m due to teach next month – please pass on if you know anyone who might be interested.
Writing Historical Fiction – Thursday 23rd August 10am-4pm – Strathclyde University Centre for Lifelong Learning – £30 – 0141 548 2116
Interested in writing a short story or novel set in the past? Whether Ancient Rome, the Victorian era or WWII, each historical period brings its own challenges for writers: how do you convey the way people lived and talked then? How do you choose the right details to really give a flavour of the time? How do you create believable characters and storylines? What resources are available, how much research is necessary – and how much is too much? This class is jointly led by a writer [that’s me!] and an historian [my good pal Dr Ben Shepherd, Reader in History at Caledonian University, author of War In The Wild East and other books], with advice, discussion and exercises used to help you find ideas, get the most out of research sources and write great historical fiction (though many elements will apply to any kind of writing). It is suitable for both beginners and more experienced writers. Strathclyde University Summer Programme online.
There will also be a longer version of the class, with weekly writing critiques and exercises, running at Glasgow University on Wednesday evenings at 6.30pm from 3rd October for eight weeks (details: 0141 330 1835) and again at Strathclyde University from January 2013 (details: 0141 548 5778).
In both terms I’ll also be running literature classes, including Now Read The Book II – the sequel to last year’s book-to-film adaptations class.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Literary happenings, Research, Reviews, Teaching, TV