Thursday, 20 July 2017

Louise Doughty - Word Factory Masterclass



Louise Doughty sets up clutching a copy of her own work, Black Water, and a copy of Haruki Murakami short stories. That's when I know the session, in a stifling basement of Waterstones, Piccadilly, will be great. Murakami is master of the short story form, a writer who can persuade my scientist husband to delve into fiction. I'd argue the corner for Louise, that she too is a crafted writer of wonderful stories, with a wealth of experience from novels and shorts through journalism, radio plays and screenplays. This is a woman who knows her work, an early Creative Writing student under Angela Carter at UEA, it took her maybe seven or eight years to find her prose power, and when she did, she didn't stop.

The masterclass is on Where The Narrative Leads - is your short story a moment in time, or could it be more? Could it have the scope of a novel? Louise is fascinated by where the original point of a story exists, where does an idea begin?

Although both her recent books, Apple Tree Yard and Black Water, have very different settings and themes, they both began in the same way. In that space between waking and sleep at the end of the day, with a single image. In Apple Tree Yard, it was the scene of a woman at the Old Bailey giving evidence in her own trial and the feeling she was about to be exposed in a damaging lie. Writing those first two thousand words, Louise sent it to her agent and he asked for a one page synopsis to send to Faber, the book was born.

Louise talks frequently about writing in scenes, her process to write on and leave the balnks that research or emotion will later fill [in square brackets]. Her process is organic, she will write non-chronologically, writing and rewriting a particular scene until it feels right, then lie all the scenes on the floor and re-arrange, cutting some well loved and keeping others in a jigsaw method. Once she has the corners, she can work in from there.

She pays homage to the structure involved in writing a screenplay and illustrates the Syd Field Screenwriter's workbook (I go home and dig out my copy of The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting. John Yorke - Into the Woods - is good too, as is How to Write and Sell The Hot Screenplay by Raindance Writers Lab). Plot points are important, the point when the course of the narrative changes and there is no going back. Think about how the character changes through the story. These can be small or large scale changes.

In both boooks, she had an idea, a picture, of a character in a situation. In Black Water she was a guest at a writers and readers festival in Bali. Set up after the Bali bombings to encourage high end tourists back to the area. Writers came from across the globe on circuitous and cheap routes to be accommodated in luxury hotels with free drinks. Most were off their faces with a mixture of alcohol and jet lag on the first night. Here, Louise lay awake every night in her hut, listening to the unfamiliar noises, creaking, gecko's and monkeys. An image came to her of a man lying awake at night in a hut in rural Indonesia, mortally afraid. He thinks men with Machetes are coming to kill him, but it is his younger self that he is really afraid of. As she wrote the scene into a short story it grew longer and longer, and here she pauses to dwell on the importance of writing your characters full biography. Give them an age and place and work backwards, where are the opportunities for research. Have something that possess you. Start to see everything in ordinary life through the prism of your novel, all becomes noteworthy, it sticks in your head. Write it into the novel. Hence a family holiday to some falls at Yosemite became a scene in Black Water.


It's everything a workshop should be, inspiring, anecdotal and practical. I go away gripped with images from a short story I want to write into scenes and the tools to create a structure to hang them in a novel.

Monday, 17 July 2017

New Perspectives

It's been a while. There have been holidays and high days and visitors from over the pond. American family who have made me think about perspective and POV and writing for a different audience.

When I submit writing or have to come up with a bio I say 'I write short stories for adults and children, feature articles, YA novels, screenplays and ghost write memoirs.' A dolly mixture of styles and perspectives. Is there any such thing as a writer who writes for only one audience? It's important to dabble, although being a Jack-of-all-trades doesn't mean you can't be a master. The writing should always have heart, pace and punch, no matter who you write for.

So I'm dipping into the pick and mix bag again. Getting a proof copy of The Passenger on Lulu.com, means I can see what I think might be a finished work looks like in print, and I can see that it's probably not finished at all. Pencil sharpened and at the ready for edits.

Digging out an old MS of a YA novel I can see it's potential to be re-written as MG and start to plan a new wip; There's a Mermaid in my Garden.


And there is an upcoming short story masterclass in a high street bookshop that shall not be named (I just applied for a job there and didn't get it, maybe it's fate showing me I was meant to be a book writer and not a bookseller). So while I hand round the dip mix (jelly baby anyone?) I'll keep writing and submitting. Watch this space...

Friday, 19 May 2017

'Author' Visit

It's been a writing week of mixed fortunes. Two short stories I really believed in didn't make it into Mslexia, likewise my YA novel - Girl In The Box (which I know has heart, and legs) was not long listed for the Bath Children's Novel Award.

So why do I keep on writing? Because what else would I do? I have to, I love it. Encouraging support came from wonderful SCBWI colleagues and on submission of an interview from SF Said to Words and Pictures, I was heartened to read he had 90 rejections before publication. You have to look for the crumbs of comfort. I have had one publication -


Not that publication is the be and end all, reading short stories to an audience is pretty cool if unnerving:
https://vimeo.com/209179424


And then there was a ray of sunshine, an invitation to do some storytelling at a local school library as an 'author'- They even introduced me as such. I was so chuffed! I tried out a new story and the children seemed to really like it.


I liked it so much I extended my one session to stay the whole afternoon, re-reading the story (a re-construction of Hansel and
Gretel) to new audiences and joining the Carnegie book group to look at the shortlist. The children are part of 5,000 shadowing groups across the country, discussing and reviewing the novels before the winner is announced on the 19th June.

Carnegie is in its 80th year, its an award central to the significance of libraries, founded by the Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie,
'If ever wealth came to me that it should be used to establish free libraries.'

The children were eloquently and enthusiastically engaged with these novels, filming short videos as their method of reviewing the titles. It brought home to me the importance of stories, the importance of libraries, (one is central to my current WIP) we must fight for them. So fellow 'authors' - here's to doping what we love doing best; writing, engaging with audiences, inspiring, creating, being resilient, here's to more of the same.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Which Way Now?


Laid up with the ankle injury again I've time to consider what next? Along with everyone else on the planet, we live in uncertain mercurial times. Which way to vote? Which job to go for? What to write next? Which agent to submit to? Amongst all the confusion, rejection and stagnation of a writing and working life - is it all worth it?

The answer to the last one is yes, always, just persist, resist, exist. As Maya Angelou said,

'But still, like air, I'll rise.'

Got to keep on keeping on, looking out for those signposts. So, thanks to the SCBWI community for support and encouragement. Hopefully they'll be an enjoyable bread and butter job out there soon and those stories and words in competition will sparkle enough to be noticed and at least longlisted. Got to keep on keeping on!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A story for a Tuesday - Word Factory

Amazing what you find on the internet - here's one of my short stories from last year

https://vimeo.com/209179424

Monday, 13 February 2017

Roger McGough


Last weeks' Bishop's Stortford Literature Festival culminated in an evening with Roger McGough. He's been the poet of my life, the soundtrack to my childhood with The Scaffold and Lily The Pink (I still have the vinyl 45 and illustrated sleeve somewhere), a Liverpool poet accompanying my heritage, he reminds me of my Liverpudlian father (who's also an lone Evertonian locally) and his wonderful work has been with me through my teaching, inspiring a new generation to wrangle with words.

Here's a little ditty in tribute to a lovely man and a great evening at our local festival:

Roger McGough

The patron saint of poetry
With white hair and a gold earring
In bowling shoes and moleskin jacket
His performance makes it so easy

Producing words to make you think
I remember
A-drink, a-drink, a drink
To Lily-the-Pink, the-Pink, the-Pink
Mother sang it to me
At the kitchen sink

Well over a thousand
Poetic adventures he's penned
All delightful, cheering and poignant
To the end

'What I hate about life is as soon as you get the hang of it you run out of time.'

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Joanne Harris - character


I've read five Joanne Harris books. Four novels - Chocolat, The Lollipop Shoes, Peaches for Monsieur le Cure, Five quarters of the Orange and a collection of short stories, A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String. Maybe I wouldn't describe myself as a fan, (speaks of the fanatical) but I certainly have a fondness for her style, wit and opinion. Her new novel, Different Class, is different territory for me. The third book set in the fictional Yorkshire village of Malbry and described as a psychological thriller, Harris refers to these books as rainy day books, novels exploring the darker side of human nature.It seems I've been reading the sunshine books, but into each life a little rain must fall, so I'm happy to embark on something different from this author, and after her discussion of Different Class and its characters at the Bishop's Stortford Literary Festival, I feel well prepared.

With her asymmetric dark hair and in the midnight blue of her velvet Jacket, Joanne looks a little like a self assured pixie on stage. She has the grace of movement and speech (with a slight Yorkshire lilt) that makes her a captivating speaker. She also has the commanding air of an ex-teacher. She talks about her previous career as she introduces Different Class with a wry smile, 'I taught in a boys school and said I would never write about it, so this is the second book I've set in a boys school. It's a story about the past written in the dual narrative of teacher and past pupil, how the arrival of one person can disrupt a community and how the past never leaves you. My darker books use the theme of the outsider, what we show to people in different contexts.'
Her knowledge of character is intimate, as if she were talking about a well known close relative or friend. I ask does the character development come with the story or does it come first? 'I know the character's back story, what they would eat, how they travel, do they like dogs? Are they allergic to dogs? 90% of it doesn't make the page, but then I know how they will react in a different situation.' I think of my sketchy character cards for my current WIP and resolve to fill notebooks with character studies and pictures when I get home. 'The main character in Different Class is resistant to change and innovation. Some of the character is based on portraiture of staff I knew. I got fond of Straitley as I wrote in his voice, everything is seen through his eyes. I like writing in the first person, it allows me to inhabit the character.'

Students from the college probe her with further considered and interesting questions. How does she plan a novel? 'I start with two or three ideas, but don't plan ahead too much, it's a walk in the woods. If I see everything coming too clearly you don't get the surprise effect.' Was she happy with the film adaptation of Chocolat? ' I'm happy the film was made, but I don't feel as if it was my work, my job was done. Initially they wanted to set it in America, thank goodness it came back to Europe.' How important is the writer in today's society? ' They have always been important. The more you read, the more you understand where other people come from, develop that empathy. If we understand each other it's difficult to de-humanise other people. Art allows us to experience a human connection.'


Different Class is out in paperback now