So you might have noticed I’ve popped a novel rewrite coutdown metre on my side bar. Madness i hear you cry. I know. That’s why I’ve changed my header image…a mad hatters tea party is something I know something about. Ludicrous conversations about words and ideas, frustrations and a right old merry dance…a lot of which goes on in my head [on my own in a solitary room] as did arguably the whole of Alice’s adventures [not a room of course but a pleasant outdoor nap on a summer’s day]. But then even that sleep was born of a mind. Imagination knows no boundaries and goes where it will. But I am hoping a deadline will help it go where I will. This is my hope. Will be posting various ups and downs and reads along the way. Wish me luck. 🙂
Reflections on a novel in progress: The story so far.
I have been working on User, a novel about friendship, betrayal and the internet within a close knit group of young people set in Cambridge, for a long time. I first had the idea for the story back in 2007. A story about a girl called Rubi who is forced to turn internet detective when she discovers a girl murdered in her home town. I wrote a scene where she discovers the body in a flurry of inspiration and did nothing more about it until 2009 when I submitted the idea to Gold Dust mentoring scheme and won an Arts Council Grant to support the development of the idea into a novel. My main character Rubi had fleshed out a little in my mind [not on paper] in the meantime started alchemizing with an interest in emerging issues surrounding the then burgeoning phenomenon of FB and some stories bubbling up about fake identities . increasingly concern about the indelibility of the data we store online emerged. [+] I really felt I was on to something. And so did my mentor who was pleased with my progress and my confidence grew as my skills developed in writing it. At the end of the mentoring period I submitted the manuscript to a couple of agents and was accepted by A. M. Heath – on to their children + YA’s agent list. The feedback was that this novel was not – they suggested kindly – a coming of age novel as I had pitched in my cover letter but it would work very well as a YA novel. My first reaction was disappointment. This wouldn’t be the ‘Great Novel’ that I had envisioned I was writing while writing it. It would ‘just be a YA thing commanding a small fee and small audience. My first lesson in modesty – and book business reality. I’ve learned a bit since then. I’ve learned that YA is a growing, thriving market with lot’s of excellent writing and many titles achieving high levels of critical and financial success. I’ve learned that to write for YA is a gret lesson in Good Writing. YA demands strong narrative lines, authentic characters and direct communication. There is no room for obscfucating language. YA and older ones who also read it will not tolerate it. These things do not mean YA is any less engaged with ideas, emotive. In fact it is often more so. Many YA novels engage directy with ideas of all sorts from death, meaning of life, immigration, examples. Then life got in the way.
I gave birth to my first son in March 2011 – following 3 miscarriages – and my second in April 2014, following another baby loss. I said ‘got in the way’ but of course this has been the most exciting and challenging time of my life. I am now a mother. My world has changed. I count my blessings for my two gorgeous boys – and even though they limit my writing time [I also have a lecturing post ] they inspire me to be a better person – a better writer.
It is now 2015. I have not touched the ms since November 2013 when I sent it off to my copy editor. She returned it in good time. I thanked her, read her insightful comments and then didn’t open it again until last month. But I am opening it again and again now. Progress is being made. I have renewed enthusiasm for this story. I love Rubi. I want her to breathe. I want her and Cyd, and Rhid and Aleesha and Pete all to have a life of their own, in the minds and I hope hearts of readers. I have some new ideas. I read more, know better how to write this story that seems at times so often to evade me.
A little late to the party with reading this one but John Green’s best seller of 2012 is enough of a good book to get excited about off trend. The tale of terminally ill cancer patients Hazel and Augustus is more than just a love story. It is a story about how to face death and what to make of life. We might expect teenagers to grapple with the question of the purpose of life – I certainly did – but the question of how to face death is one that most teenagers wont find themselves spending too much time on. You remember, don’t you? When life stretched out ahead of you – the future, a seeming forever? Not so for Hazel and Augustus. They don’t know the exact day of their ending but they know it’s soon. They know they will not get old, not have children, that they will leave their parents missing a crucial part of their happiness. But Hazel finds meaning not in the call to perform some heroic act of charity or superhuman strength like many suffering from cancer do. She is not driven to leave some legacy to be remembered by, unlike Augustus. She finds her meaning in the everyday. Observations of the natural world and how we humans fit in to it. Noticing the universe that seemingly needs to be noticed and seeing her place in it as just that. In it. Not the other way around. An insight that perhaps only someone who has nature set against her in the most unsolicited of ways – more than once she describes her self as her cancer and ‘ a mutation’. She is evolution in action. There is, arguably, no harder way to learn the lesson of life than to know this by experience.
Anyone wrestling with an illness should read this book. It’ll banish self-pity and if it’s not already been entered – open a door to a new kind of strength via an acceptance of what cannot be altered. It is also a book for anyone who is wrestling with someone they love with an illness or may have one themselves one day [yep so that’s everyone].
I may have a look at the film – but I wont go out of my way. The book of course says everything the story needs to. And I expect the film will only subtract not add to the experience.
I love this project from Scottish artist Katie Paterson: Future Library Project. What an honour it would be to be one of the invited authors. Margaret Atwood is such a fitting first contributor and even such an established literary figure as her feels delighted to be taking part. The idea of commissioning an author a year to write a novel that will then only be seen in 2114 when it is published on paper made from trees planted a few months ago is simple and prompts the ‘that’s an obvious idea’ response when first heard that all great ideas do. Of course someone should do this. It’s a creative and almost magical celebration of the imaginative life of books and the power of libraries as exquisiste collections of all that the human mind is capable. A perfect artwork as its form matches it concept ‘deliciously’ – a word Atwood uses herself to describe her involvement. I only wish I could be around to see it’s realization. But the fact I’m wont somehow only heightens the project’s allure.
This novel was suggested to me by my PhD supervisor as I began my research in to the impact social media is having on experiences of motherhood. The women and mothers in this novel don’t make use of social media, nor does their author to communicate who they are so it wasn’t for that that my supervisor suggested the book. Rather it was for its precise anatomy of the struggles of women with the daily divided tertories of men and women’s work. they way Cusk describes lives where the politics of gender should be alive, kicking and screaming – but isn’t. These women are bright, intelligent but most exist as if feminism hasn’t happened. As if The Feminine Mystic, Female Eunuch, A Room of One’s Own and the many other conscious raising tracts of the politics of sexual inequality hadn’t happened nor the movements they inspired. Cusk and her characters are dissatisfied in their housework and child rearing duties and wonder what’s changed for women now compared to the past. Certainly not much as far as they see. Some accept this as the way of things. Some find it less easy to stomach. But what to do? Crop your hair the only answer one woman comes up with. Cusk relies on a conventional third person narration to detail the thought, dreams and actions of her characters with a genome scientists precision. The shopping trips, school runs, neighbourly dinner invitations that make up their seemingly similar suburban lives in desirable Arlington Park the landscape in which they must thrive or sink. As we move over the lives of these characters Cusk gives us a wide tracking shot of their lives, intercut with well place close ups – but she keeps us at a distance and at times I found myself reading on as a matter of duty rather than desire. I think the distancing effect of her writing is due it part to its eloquence. Dare I say over eloquence? Although I admire and enjoyed her prose the impact of the characters lives feels backgrounded as a consequence of Cusk’s prose style somehow. Cusk writes with acuity and if you are a wife and/or mother it is likely you will find something to recognise in these pages. But don’t expect any solutions to the problems of domestic life it raises.
I’ve only published 2 short stories in print and received nothing but a small cash prize for one of them. Not payment as such. Being a paid writer is something I aspire to. To be paid one day for the work I write would allow me to have the focussed writing life I’ve long desired, a chance to tell stories, explore ideas and develop my craft. But the market likelihood of this ever happening seems to lessen year by year by the corrosion of creative copyright laws and a digitally minded society with generations who increasingly resent paying for anything.
This somewhat disheartening but realistic survey of the state of things for writers wishing to write for a living summarizes the problems anyone considering writing as a profession, rather than writing for a hobby. Not that I’m disparaging the values of writing as a hobby – there are many – but rather a situation surrounding creative copyright that would have us all content providers but not a one getting paid. Technology disseminates, enables and living it with is inevitable but if the only people who make any money are the handful who run the digital distribution platforms, the content providers – designers, filmmakers, musicians, writers must look elsewhere for an income. A situation that might well result in a era of bust for independent authorship, free voice or original thinking. It will certainly mean a lean time of belt tightening for anyone desiring an old fashioned life of letters. The challenge for writers is to find ways of reinventing this notion of a committed and serious life of words while staying true to its heart and purpose and the personal and creative integrity that that entails.
How We Become Who We Are is my doctorate novel about the stories we tell that make us who we are online and the gaps between our real and virtual lives.
Is this myself, or are we merely fictions – David Shields reality hunger
From How We Become
‘Frankie knew the internet was a slippery thing. She knew how easy it was to get caught up. So many diversions, distractions, lies, fantasies, desires in one place. If it’s not selling you something it’s telling you something, making something, faking something. Sapping life out of the new, squeezing the value out of everything. Frankie had too often had enough. But as she watched the stats of her youtube channel pass 1 million subscribers she ascended from the merely ordinary to somewhat remarkable. It was a good feeling. A feeling she felt she deserved. For the first time in her life Frankie had assets. Assets that, if she played her hand right, could fundamentally change her life.’