A fascinating insight into other writers’ working practices
Do you plot your novel to the last detail or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Do you know where you are going when you put pen to paper or are you winging it for the entire journey? In other words, are you a plotter or pantster?
When my debut novel, The Backstreets of Purgatory, was taken by Unbound I was forced to face a dilemma that had been bothering me for a while. Should I use my own name or should I use a pseudonym? I’ve written a piece about the very subject for the outstanding The F Word, a webzine of contemporary UK feminism, which has just been published.
It was a great experience working with their fiction editor, Harriet Kilikita. It is the first time I’ve worked like this with an editor (if you don’t take into account my reports on the netball league for the local newspaper in Oxford; my masterpieces of sports journalism tended to be slashed to one or two lines—it was crippling). This was an altogether more positive affair.
Thanks to all those involved. It is great (if pretty scary) to get exposure on a site with as many engaged readers as The F Word. Especially when my feminist credentials were in desperate need of a good dusting down.
I want to share a method that always works for me. It comes with a health warning because it is addictive.
Writers, we all know that awful feeling. The blank page or screen waiting expectantly for our brilliant words to fill it. And us, ready, desperate to flex our writing muscle or whatever the current expression is.
How can we get past that terrible block and just start writing? The thing is—I don’t know if it is the same for you—but the more I write, the quicker the ideas flow, but it is that getting started part that’s tricky. Of course, you’ll find loads of advice all over the internet on how to get those precious words down on paper. We’re talking free writing, dream diaries, character studies, writing prompts and the like. But honestly, if all that was needed from a writing prompt was any old word, we could—would—simply pick our own at random from the dictionary. True, these are all great ways of practising your technique (and like any craft, writing demands regular practice), but they don’t always give you a real connection to a piece of work. And that is because there is something fundamental missing. Continue reading “Writer’s Block: How to generate your own writing prompts and never be short of ideas again.”
Individually we may not be able to atone for the past, but we must acknowledge it.
Fiction is often the gateway into fact for me. The books that stay with me longest are frequently those that have changed the way that I look at the world, taught me something fundamental or submerged me in an unfamiliar culture. Books like Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which centres on the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967-1970, a war about which I was shamefully almost entirely ignorant until I read the book, or Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits which, even though the Latin American country in which it is set is unnamed, was my point of discovery of the history and politics of Chile and led me towards the more factual (but beautifully written) books about South American history and politics by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy—one of my favourite books of all time—not only evoked the most profound memories of the short time that I worked in West Bengal Continue reading “Sugar and Tobacco”
Quick update to my post about our Unbound Golden Hare event in Edinburgh on Wednesday night. The event will take place in Golden Hare Books rather than St Stephen’s. Hope you can make it. It would be ace to see you there!!
Come along to meet some new writers, discover more about an innovative company and support your local independent bookshop.
VENUE UPDATE: We’ll be reading in the bookshop rather than the Great Hall.
Are you a writer, a reader? Are you interested in publishing or being published? Are you a bookshop devotee or an ebook enthusiast?
Yes, yes, yes, of course!! If you happen to be near Edinburgh on Wednesday 10th May, I’d love to see you at a special panel event featuring myself and three other Unbound authors, Martine McDonagh, Ian Skewis and Tabatha Stirling. The event is being hosted by Stockbridge’s wonderful independent bookshop, Golden Hare Books in the glorious surroundings of the Great Hall of St Stephen’s, Stockbridge.
We all know the publishing and bookselling industry is changing fast. The boundaries between traditional publishing and the standard model of self-publishing are blurring as innovative companies like Unbound challenge the status quo. Unbound’s radical new publishing model takes traditional publishing and combines it with a crowdfunding platform. Their ethos is to publish adventurous, exciting books, produced to an impeccable standard, for a readership who are eager to support these books.
And how often do we hear about bookshops struggling? Far too often, I’m sure you’ll agree. So it is fantastic to find an independent bookseller who is going great guns. Golden Hare Books opened its doors in 2012 in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket before moving to its current location in Stockbridge three years ago. The bookshop has a small team of knowledgable staff who are all avid readers and deeply involved in the literary world. Community involvement, collaborations with artists and writers, story and craft sessions for youngsters—Golden Hare Books is committed to being a space for everyone to come and celebrate books. And it isn’t only about the words inside but also books as physical objects, as objects of beauty. I can certainly relate to that. Cover designs, the weight of a book in your hands, the ruffle and smell of freshly turned pages. Bookshop heaven.
From 6 pm until 8.30 pm, while you sip a glass of wine in the beautiful surroundings of the Great Hall in St Stephen’s Stockbridge, the four Unbound authors will discuss the pros and cons, the highs and lows, the success and the difficulties of our crowdfunding campaigns. Although we have all written novels, there the similarity ends. Our projects span hardback, paperback and digital editions, some of us are published, some of us funded or still funding. You can find out more about each of us on Golden Hare’s event page (where you can also buy tickets), or follow the links on our names above to our Unbound pages.
The Great Hall is a magnificent space. It would be fantastic to be able to fill it. Admission is ticketed and the tickets cost only £2 (and you get a glass of wine for that). Come along to meet some new writers, discover more about an innovative company and support your local independent bookshop. We’re looking forward to meeting you!
Pat Byrne: smitten with the West End of Glasgow and intrigued by the people, the parks, the history, the architecture and the atmosphere
Pat Byrne is the person behind Glasgow West End: Pat’s Guide, a website aimed at promoting this great part of Glasgow. It focuses on the local community, with a ‘what’s on’ guide and loads of useful information about restaurants, shops, pubs, galleries and more. She’s also a writer and involved in other projects, most recently Ten Writers Telling Lies, a unique collaboration between a group of storytellers, poets and the singer-songwriter Jim Byrne and which was performed as a live event and is now available as a book with an accompanying CD.
Pat was born in Glasgow’s Royal Maternity Hospital (known to most of us as Rottenrow) but her childhood was spent in Old Kilpatrick, a village half way between Glasgow and Loch Lomond. As a child, one of her great treats was to go ‘up the town’ so the city has always been close to her heart but her discovery of the West End came later, as a student in the 1970s. Now, she says she’s ‘smitten’ with the area Continue reading “West End Pat answers my Proust Questionnaire”
Celebration time. The Backstreets of Purgatory, my debut novel, has reached its crowdfunding target. The special edition will be published by Unbound later this year. The commercial edition should be available in a bookshop near you sometime early next year. Since I heard the news just more than a week ago, I’ve been wandering around in a bit of a daze with a huge grin on my face, not able to concentrate on anything productive. I’m thrilled, excited, totally chuffed.
And more than a teeny bit scared.
A few years ago, I had a short story published in the (now sadly defunct) Ranfurly Review. Titled very imaginatively as The Kiss, it stars Ade who is in hindsight certainly a forerunner to Finn (the main character in Backstreets), and Crystal, a transvestite who despite not bothering to shave when she goes out on the razz Continue reading “Ecstasy (and a tiny bit of agony)”
And I remember…the crushing humiliation the first time the faults in a piece of work that I considered to be a masterpiece were gently and tactfully revealed to me in all their over-written and pretentious glory.
Recently I had the enormous privilege of critiquing an early draft of a short story written by a friend. This is the sort of thing I love doing but also one of the things that I find tricky to carry off. At least, the part where I summarise my thoughts.