Sunday, 22 January 2012

To be a Williams, or a Young, or a Zelte...

My surname has always given me grief.  Nobody can pronounce it (it’s Latvian, and is pronounced belt-tee, not belt, or bette, or ho ho ho, balti); and it doesn’t bode well when the order of things is determined alphabetically, either.  When this is the case, there ALWAYS seems to be a distinct lack of “A”s around, meaning that I’m often first in line for such lovely things as injections and group introductions; and while I did get to swagger through the school corridor like some mega hard Prisoner Cell Block H bitch after getting the TB jab first, sneering “piece of piss” to all the quaking T’s and W’s; this week I felt more like the poor, meek minor-offence wuss that gets their hand melted in the laundry press.

I had to present my novel to my group. First. 

While last weeks session involved giving a brief summary of our work, this week we had to submit 3,000 words for inspection, and then sit back and wait as our precious, heartfelt renderings were torn to shreds by the online mob.  Louis de Bernieres once likened "the pressure of trying to write a second bestseller to standing in Trafalgar Square and being told to get an erection in the rush hour", which (although not comparing myself to a best-selling novelist) perfectly encapsulates the strange tension between the public and the private that defines the writing/publication process. This unveiling of work-in-progress then was akin to sitting there naked while a group of onlookers poke at you and mutter things like, “mmm, nice tits, but those thighs need some work.” And it was GREAT!

I was a little startled by how helpful the whole thing was, and had been prepared to be disagreeably defensive, clutching my manuscript to my chest away from any critical claws, but it was so encouraging and positive and ultimately inspiring that I now am eagerly anticipating my next stint in the spotlight. Any reservations that I may have had about undertaking a writing MA have all but disappeared, discarded in the almost euphoric wave of inspiration that follows these sessions.  Plus it’s great to chat to people about things like P.O.V; prologue versus a first chapter; and present tense versus past tense, as people at bus stops, boyfriends on the xbox and housemates watching TV just aren’t that bothered, I’ve found.

With regards to my writing, aside from sending an email (albeit a reply to an acceptance of work) that was intended for my boyfriend to the editor of a literary magazine; one full of love declarations and kisses (and swiftly followed by a sheepish apologetic one); this week saw the publication of two shorts pieces: Entertainers And Dreamers Grow Bitter Eventually and Scissors,Paper, Stone.

The first was for Pure Slush, an Australian journal I was immediately drawn to because of the tagline, “Flash... without the wank.” Having encountering countless literary mags that seem purposefully and pretentiously obscure, this seemed like a good opportunity to try and write something that didn’t have five million layers of meaning, and that wasn’t jam-packed with esoteric metaphors.  The theme for the month was “music”, and I enjoyed the “brief” and am pleased with the finished product as it was fun to write something light-hearted and amusing rather than the usual horrible gloom.

Speaking of which, my second publication was with Ink Sweat & Tears, a short prose/poetry piece (another experimentation of style) concerning the merciless universe and our trifling, insignificant roles within it, all encapsulated by a young girl making paper dolls.  And that now sounds completely wanky in light of my last paragraph, but there you go...

 Google research history this week: A Midsummer Nights Dream, Punch and Judy, The Second World War, cigarette advertisements, Dust Bowl, stunt men,  why do onions make you cry?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

back to school....

So, the MA has begun!  I had my first online seminar this week, which consisted of everybody taking it in turns to briefly present their novel/novel-in-progress to the group.  A day or so before we’d had to post our synopses online, plus indications of the potential audience, genre, age group etc, along with any anxieties that we had about our work, and areas we needed assistance with, be it P.O.V, dialogue, pacing, the correct amount of dragons, whatever. 

Being part of the January intake (along with two others), I was a little nervous about barging into an already well established group, especially when I then had to comment on their personal work (like the equivalent of shaking hands, and then remarking, “god, you’ve got big ears, haven’t you?!), but everybody was so completely welcoming that a few minutes in I’d completely forgotten my status as a “newbie” and let myself get carried along by the enthusiasm and humour and sheer passionate creativity of the group. 

Facing the mini-critique felt a little like gawping at a malfunctioning tennis ball machine that was pelting you non-stop, albeit with questions and suggestions rather than balls; and it was difficult, under pressure, to bat many answers back, but the session is saved and re-reading it it’s unbelievably helpful, and I’m amazed at how much was squeezed into such a short space of time.  
I'm also impressed by the other ideas put forward by my peers; a wide range of material, from 'young adult' stories, to fantasy, to historical fiction, but all brimming with imaginative potential, all interesting, all viable, to my eyes, at least.  Plus knowing that you're in the same boat as a load of other people, all rowing towards the same seemingly impossible horizon, only makes you want to work your oars that little bit harder.  And oh, how I do like to exhaust a metaphor....

But I do need to learn to catch up.  The chat moves so fast that by the time you’ve answered somebody, the subject has changed and you’re lagging behind.  This can be perilous (ahem)..

Person 1:  so we’re the cool group then?
Person 2 (tutor-commenting in general): We’ll lose access at half six, we’re screwed.
Me (replying to person 1): I hope so!

Whoops. I did the same later, when somebody said something that prompted the response, “no way” from me, but as the conversation rushed past, I typed this to her later offer to accompany me to Latvia for a research trip, and it whooshed past again before I could explain myself. I can hear them now: “That new girl’s a swinger AND a bitch…”

Aside from the MA, I had this published: Mavromoth (Mavros-which means ‘black’ in Greek, and err, moth).  It’s an attempt at horror flash fiction, and the 'Mavromoth' character itself is lifted from a children’s book of mine I near finished (but never revised) years ago.  The publication of this has been an epiphany of sorts, in that while I like the general idea of it, I think it reads like an early draft, and is clearly rushed and could be a whole lot better.  The initial excitement of getting stuff published has seen me bombarding editors with unpolished work, and then either bemoaning the rejection (made worse as I know that the piece deserved it), or ruing the acceptance if it’s not up to scratch. Of course, all writers are perfectionists, so a piece can never be completely finished; and seeing the errors in earlier work IS a sign of progress, but still.  The lesson learned then is patience.  I am now intending to sit (not literally) on my stories when I think that they’re finished, and approach them weeks/months/? later, with fresh eyes. Oh, and I need to read more poetry.

And that’s it, for now. 

No, it isn't, read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, it is wonderful. You won't regret it.

Monday, 2 January 2012

to RSI and the DTS. Happy New Year!

With new Christmas books piled up EVERYWHERE and all the poor, unread neglected tomes peering at me from every corner of my room like mewing, shivering orphans, I’ll attempt a brief update about what’s been going on in the last month, and then get back to them. Which shouldn't take long.

The mixture of extended holidays and festive revelry has seen feedback from the magazines that I’ve submitted to fall into a stupor, and seen my own productivity huddle up in a corner with The Radio Times and Bailey's and lumps of cheese and jars of pickled onions. 

I did, however, receive two acceptances for flash fiction within twenty-four hours of each other last week, and both within twenty-four hours of me sending them.  Mmm. So, I’m either getting better as a writer, better at judging the market, or I just managed to catch editors who were already sloshed on sherry and who decided to send some good will my way. Whatever the reason, in January and February, Pure Slush and Apocrypha and Abstractions respectively, will publish, and I’ll post them on here once they go live.

I had a story called ‘Tadpoles’ published in Mused:BellaOnline Literary Review, which was a revised story that had been lurking in my files for ages and that had undergone lots of POV shifts and changes of tone and plot. It's such an old piece of writing I do approach it with a more critical eye, but I’m fairly happy with it and it’s good to have something a little longer than 500 words out there.

And finally, yesterday The Molotov Cocktail published my short piece, “Ending Soon: baby shoes, never worn, bargain.”  The title is stolen from (or provides an intertext with, as I prefer to see it) Ernest Hemingway's story in six words, which is one of the best examples of how powerful flash fiction, and language in general, can be:

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

While my story then becomes another one about dead babies (and to get me off the-perma-outraged-feminist-always-a-teen-goth-hook), the title was initially just “Ending Soon” and was originally just about a relationship in trouble. This version was rejected by another magazine as the narrator’s “nastiness” was seen as unwarranted and unexplained, so I added another layer and while this addition to the tale seems to work, these odd reoccurring themes are somewhat troubling.  Other things that seem to keep popping up are white bedsheets, freckles, vomit and blood.  I’m not even going to start probing that. 
(Oh, and ignore the typo in 'Ending Soon', and blame the editor. I'm a crap proof reader but not quite that bad.)

Other than that, the MA starts next week, so I need to decide pretty quickly what my novel is going to be about, and get reading.

 Google research history of late: guitar string mnemonics, radiation, Tom Jones’ hits, miscegenation in the Bible, famous harlots, Seamus Heaney, crows.