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?


  1. I'm with you, Nicola - that session was hugely helpful, and really encouraging. I'm glad that you, too, came away feeling energised.

  2. You needn't have worried! Great piece, great group. I'm actually looking forward to sharing mine now I've seen the gang in action.