The Very Inspiring Blogger Award 2014. And Seven Confessions about Me…

Woo Hoo!!! I’ve been nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Amazing!

As you’ve probably noticed by my introductory sentences, I’m absolutely chuffed to bits to be chosen by novelist Sandra Danby. Please click here to learn more about Sandra and about her writing and her novel, Ignoring Gravity. I’ve visited her blog many times, and in my experience, there’s always plenty there to inspire you.

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I’m inspired all the time. By the things I see, hear, touch, read in books and magazines, and watch on television. I’m inspired by countryside, and cities, and beaches, and sunsets.

Inspiration is in everything we see and do.  It's a path to something better.

Inspiration is in everything we see and do. It’s a path to something better.

I’m inspired by humour, and bravery, compassion and kindness, by dedication and tenacity, the innocence of youth and the ravages of age, as well as the beautiful and, sometimes awful, random events around us. Inspiration is everywhere, rousing and firing imagination and emotions.

But the thing I find inspires me more than anything is other people’s talent.  I’m always astounded by their abilities, what their imagination creates and melds together. It motivates me to do the same. It triggers my memories and spurs my senses. It produces a need to channel those everyday experiences and sensations into something that others can share. You know that feeling when you encounter a piece of art or theatre or writing that moves you, or makes you think about something in a different way? That’s the effect I want my writing to have on others. To produce that ‘Ah yes’ moment. ‘That’s how it is.’

So, it was a real honour to get nominated for this – that somewhere along the way, I may have stimulated or motivated someone else to write, or simply given a person hope or ideas to work with. The most encouraging aspect of creativity is that everyone can have a go, and with time and practise we all get better. There’s nothing more inspirational than that, is there?

Before I divulge any further (more disturbing) information about myself, I’ll list the rules for the award:

As a nominee, you must:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.

2. List the rules and display the award.

3. Share seven facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated. 

5. Optional: follow the blogger who nominated you, if you don’t already do so.

 

Okay, so here’s seven facts about myself. I hope you find them interesting.

1. Though I never originally had a desire to get married or be a mother, I now have a husband and two daughters (which just goes to show how life can take you on unexpected journeys.)

Who are these two children and why are they with me?

Who are these two children and why are they with me?

My daughters were born six years apart, and are very different in personality and outlook, though both are very single-minded. Sometimes being in the house with the two of them can be… er… tempestuous to say the least, but on the whole, I love that their characters and interests are so diverse. The eldest goes off to university in September 2014, the idea of which has left me slightly bereft. Though I have always encouraged her to be independent, I am now considering packing all of us into her suitcase before she goes, and seeing if we can get away with living in her room – in a box under her bed.

Lucy and Rosie and parrot

I wanted the parrot…

 

2. I grew up desperately in love with musicals and old films, as well as the actors in them.

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Doris Day, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Gene Kelly, Marilyn Munroe, Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacClaine, Tony Curtis, James Stewart, Jack Fonda, John Wayne, and so many others (as you can see, it’s a long list). I had childhood crushes on them all. They captured my imagination, enchanted me, and absorbed me in a different – magical – universe. (My love affair with film still exists to this day, and yes, I still get a little obsessed with the likes of James McAvoy, Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling). After I’d finished watching the shows, I’d re-enact them – alone – in the living room, with a burning desire to relive the magic moments over and over. I played out the individual characters, changed the intonations of my voice (in my mind, I could be man, woman or child, though if I’m honest, I was disappointed I didn’t have the gift to change my height, or the colour and style of my hair), stamping around the sofa gesticulating wildly, and using a cushion (cringe) for the more romantic moments. Sometimes I’d record the soundtrack of the movie on my cassette recorder, and woe betide anyone who scraped a chair, opened a door, or coughed while I reproduced the programme in its auditory form. After, I’d lie on my bed, listening intently, reassimilating the experience, allowing my imagination to relive the whole theatre of the thing over and over again. I’m sure it’s this obsession with re-creation that developed my obsession with writing today.

 

3. I live in Littleborough, which is a Lancashire town on the edge of the Pennines and the border of West Yorkshire.

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As far as I am concerned, it is the wettest place in the UK, unless, of course, you decide to relocate to the middle of the North Sea. I have lived here since 2003, which is the longest I have lived in any one town since I was a child, so I can only assume I like being permanently damp. As well as my husband, and two children, I live with a very smelly, drooling and toothless, grey-faced boxer dog, Fudge, and an arrogant tabby cat, Boris, in an old converted wool mill. It is possibly the coldest house known to mankind, and in winter, I live permanently in fleece pyjamas, gillet, dressing gown, thick socks, furry slippers, scarf and hat.

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The entire ensemble is finished off with a brown blanket and sometimes a hot-water bottle. The postman is so used to me opening the front door in my eclectic (odd) costume, that he hasn’t blinked an eye in years. In the winter months, getting out of bed and dressing is an interesting experience, and the phrase ‘BRACE YOURSELF’ often comes to mind.

 

4. I spent two years as a holiday representative for a luxury camping company in France.

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Twice a week, I used to stand up in front of twenty families and lead a welcome meeting, and yet, I never got over my fear of public speaking. Later I became a primary school teacher, which bizarrely, is a job that also involves talking in public. In fact, that’s pretty much all you do. In the classroom, I never had a problem with this. However, my view on my sudden abandonment of my glossophobia is that kids don’t judge you in the same way as adults. Plus, they like it if you act like an idiot… and I do that a lot.

 

5. My first language as a child – despite being brought up in the UK – was not English, but Polish. For three years, I’d lived as an only child in a household of Polish speakers, in a wider community of Polish speakers. During this time, not one person thought to mention that we lived in England. Or that in this country, there was another language that everyone else used on a regular basis. They also forgot to mention that I might need it to function when performing ordinary day to day tasks in public. As it happened, I went to my first day at nursery unable to speak a word of the language of the country I was born into. Also, as my mother dropped me off that morning, she forgot to mention this fact to the staff. (To be honest, I don’t think she realised. When you’re bilingual, you slip in and out of languages so easily, you don’t realise you’re doing it. But anyway…) Obviously, when she picked me up later, she was met with consternation, and a genuine fear that I was deaf. Apparently, I hadn’t responded to anything that the assistants or children said to me that day, which was worryingly a sign of hearing impairment, or perhaps a learning difficulty. Yet, surely, this misunderstanding wasn’t the consequence of my mother’s oversight, but rather, a sign of their professional incompetance? I look back now and think: how did they not realise? Surely, in their line of work, an essential quality when working with children (both English speaking and not) is an ability to MIND READ? Pffft. Shocking. You just can’t get the staff.

(By the way, my lingual abilities were with me for life. By my twenties, I’d gone from being a fluent speaker of Polish in my early childhood, to pidgin Polish in my teens, to only being able to count to 20 and say a handful of random phrases in adulthood. Shameful.)

Strangely, on the same theme, some years later – by which time I was, thankfully, a fluent English speaker – there was another concern about my ability to hear; again in an educational establishment. This time I was sent for an auditory analysis because, as was my wont, I wasn’t responding as expected in class. As it turned out, my hearing was impeccable, but my propensity to day-dream meant I faded out the presence of the class teacher on a regular basis – usually for most of the day. What can I say? I was happy in my own world! And you won’t be surprised to hear, I’m still like that now.

 

6. During my childhood, I believed I had an amazing singing voice, until my parents selfishly ruined it by buying me a cassette recorder for my ninth birthday (please see fact #2). One day, in a bedroom solo-performance extravaganza, I belted out a show tune from Cats – ‘MEMORIES’ – in the style of Barbra Streisand. I could barely contain myself once the song ended – rewinding the tape, smug in the knowledge I was going to wow audiences world wide, unable to wait for my journey of fame to begin – only to play it back and, upon hearing myself, sit there in wide-eyed shock with my mouth open. For the first time since aged three in nursery, I was silent. Let’s just say the whole experience left me mentally traumatised and disappointed. I wasn’t the singing aficionado I thought I was. To this day, though I still dream of being able to perform an aria on stage, with audiences applauding me with endless standing ovations, I would never purposely torture anyone with my singing voice. In private though, it doesn’t stop me belting out a … er… tune. Though, nowadays, I am very careful about the volumes I reach. A few years after my Babs Streisand reality-check, I was singing in the bath when there was a knock on the front door.

Girl guide serial killer

My girl guide serial killer stage

I went downstairs in my dressing gown, to answer the door to our neighbour. She asked if my mother was in, to which I answered, ‘No, sorry – she’s out.’ The neighbour looked puzzled. ‘Are you sure she’s not in?’ she said. She peered into the house, looking directly behind me, where there was nothing but an empty room. ‘I could swear I heard you both arguing.’ Arguing? Gah!

 

7. I’m horrified by my age, and have always believed that I am a female Peter Pan figure. Until recently, I truly believed that middle-age only impacts other people, never me. Even to this day, I don’t feel like a grown-up, but unfortunately, my mirror, and my aches and pains tell a different story. As a result, I feel betrayed by the world, and want to know the way back to Neverland. Anyone got the directions?

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Growing up? Too scary to contemplate! DON’T DO IT!!!

 

Here are my nominated blogs:

I love novellist EL Lindley’s blog.  She writes about all things now, with humour, wisdom and insight: men, women, friendships, crushes, education, even Morrissey… Anything you want an opinion on, you’ll find it here: ellindley.weebly.com

Paul writes about his experiences with writing.  His writing itself, and his procrastination: http://misterphipps.com

Penny Shutt writes amazing poetry, and blogs about how her experiences with therapeutic writing.  http://pennyshutt.weebly.com

On A Woman’s Wisdom, you’ll find reviews of a variety of books.  http://awomanswisdom.wordpress.com

Experience Stephen Thom’s speculative and metaphysical fiction here: http://stephenthom.wordpress.com

Sonya reviews books and interviews writers: http://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com

Cheryl writes serialised fiction to which she adds intricately detailed illustrations on: http://cherylmoore.wordpress.com and here is her blog with further writing: http://cherylmoorestoriesandpoems.wordpress.com/about/

I love the humour in this blog – something I keep trying to introduce to my short story writing, but somehow my themes are persistently bleak and SERIOUS.  One day I am going to write a character in the Skinny and Single vein: http://skinnyandsingle.wordpress.com

 

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The Heaven of Cannibals – ‘Landing On All Fours’ by Sally-Anne Wilkinson

My latest contribution to STORGY:

The Heaven of Cannibals – ‘Landing On All Fours’ by Sally-Anne Wilkinson.

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Ten Stories About Something – ‘Ether’ by Sally-Anne Wilkinson

New on Storgy. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

ETHER

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

typewriter love

The days and nights, I drift, like flotsam on the tide.

Soon I’ll wash away entirely.

Of course, there are moments when I grasp on, when I hear the stampede of life, and remember what I was; when all this started.

I’ll tell you about it, while I’ve got time.

*

Physically, I felt odd for a while, with lack of sleep getting the blame. I was recently a new partner at Fassett, Masters & Jones, and found it difficult at times, though nothing I couldn’t handle. Yet each day, I became increasingly off-kilter – a strange sensation, like losing myself.

Oscar laughed. ‘What? Don’t be daft. You’re just tired, that’s all.’

‘It’s more than that.’

‘You need a change… A weekend away. Me. You. No kids…’

That’s the trouble with Oscar. Things need to fall down around him before he takes them seriously – but I knew it…

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Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – Sunrise over Cappadocia

Here’s my latest story on the Storgy website. Inspired by the glory of hot air balloons in the morning sky!

Sunrise over Cappadocia

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

 typewriter love

‘Come here.  There’s sleep in your eye.’

‘Mmmm…That’s good to know.’

He leans closer, and with his fingertip, removes the offending article.  I can feel the softness of his skin as he takes the tiny haul from the corner of my eye.  He smiles, proudly, displaying the crustie, then kisses the end of my nose.  The room is draped in shadows, and the pale blob resting on his nail is barely discernible in the dim light.

‘How can you do that?’I say.

‘Why not?  It’s part of you.’  He wipes his finger on the side of the bed.

‘Gross.’

‘You wouldn’t do that for me?’

‘No way!’

‘Not squeeze the blackheads on my back?’

‘Absolutely not!’

‘Would you cut my toenails if there was ever a time I couldn’t reach them…’

‘You’d be lucky.’

He edges across the bed, so his face rests…

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When it Comes to Imagination, it’s Horses for Creative Writing Courses…

Last time, I talked about whether good writing could be developed with the help of a writing course.  This time, I’m focusing on one writing course in particular:

Help!  My writing’s in a rut!  How do I dig out?

Okay, so maybe you like writing and you want to improve?  Or maybe you want to write, but you’re not sure how to start? Maybe you don’t have access to a local writing group, or maybe you do, but it’s just not working for you?  Maybe you’ve been considering doing a writing course, but haven’t got around to it yet?  Maybe you’ve heard good and bad reports about them – there’s so many on the web it gives you a headache to choose?  Maybe you feel you haven’t got the time, or maybe you’ve heard they’re expensive, and you think they’re not a financially viable option for you?

Decisions!  DECISIONS!!  I don't want to be a grown up.

Decisions! DECISIONS!! I don’t want to be a grown up.

Whatever the reason, you can tie yourself in knots, so sometimes, it’s good to have someone else’s opinion.  Someone who’s done a course already, who’s soared the highs and survived the lows.  Yes, you’re right – that person’s ME!

When I was researching my options, it was around the time that university fees had gone through the roof, and I was an indecisive mess (something you’ll quite frequently witness if you know me well) until I stumbled across the York University online creative writing course.  (Yes, it’s a mouthful, but really, once you get over the hurdle of the tongue-twister, you won’t be disappointed).

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When you said I could tie a cherry stalk with my tongue, you didn’t say THIS would happen!

So, what’s it all about then?

So, practically speaking, the course is set into five modules, which are taken flexibly over three years:

  1. Core Module – an introductory overview of fiction, prose, scriptwriting and critical analysis;
  2. Critical Analysis – looks at what successful writers incorporate into their writing and what it achieves;
  3. Fiction;
  4. Poetry;
  5. Scriptwriting (including scripts for radio, film and stage).

The cost of each module, and the accompanying books, won’t break the bank (between 2011-2014, the cost was approximately £200 per 11 week module.)

How was it for you?

Overall, I absolutely loved it, though there were some peaks and troughs, and yes,  it improved my writing no end.   Not just my writing, but my confidence too.  From completing the first module, I’ve shared things I’ve written with anyone who’s interested (as well as anyone who’s not).  I’ve posted on writing platforms, entered competitions, submitted to magazines, became a staff reviewer for Readwave, and also, have been asked to contribute to short fiction website Storgy.

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Where’s the bridge? You said there’d be a BRIDGE!!!!

Yet, while it was money and time well spent, I have to admit that there were moments when it felt like an ordeal that was never going to end (though, fortunately, I’m not one for giving up).  Maybe all courses are like this?   As you reach the last few miles of your journey, the light at the end of the tunnel seems just as far away.

It made me think, whenever we do anything, there’s often a downside.  In fact, there’s very little that’s all good or bad, but it’s useful to know, before you commit, the advantages and disadvantages of this type of course:

Bloody brilliant!

Firstly, there are a lot of reasons to sign up for the York Uni online course:

  • The knowledge of an experienced tutor, who teaches at a degree level, but gives you the support that suits your ability.
  • Flexible learning.  An online course means you can do the course whenever you’ve got time rather than having to attend timetabled classes.
  • The certificate was far less expensive than a degree, though the course was still taught to an extremely high standard.
  • Suits writers of all abilities, from novices to the more experienced.
  • Invaluable feedback and support from tutor and peers.
  • Connections made with like-minded people that continue beyond the course.
  • The focus on fiction/poetry/scripts gives you a strong understanding of all types of writing, regardless of your main interest.  For example, the concrete imagery in poetry, and the scene-setting and dialogue in scripts, create a better understanding of writing good prose.
  • The end of module assessments give you a clear indication of your current writing standard, your strengths, and where you can improve.
  • Lots of inspiration for writing new material.
  • You don’t have to do every module.  If you want the certificate, you have to complete the whole course, but it is possible to do the fiction, poetry, scriptwriting courses individually if you so wish.
  • You can do the course from anywhere in the world, so you’re not limited by location or travel. (Though getting hold of resources, or watching the recommended programmes etc, could be more difficult).

 

And is there a shit end to the stick?

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Like everything, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.  Here are some of the negatives – or rather, the aspects of the course that affected me negatively.

  • It’s time consuming.  You need at least fifteen hours a week for all the reading, writing, research and critiquing required for the course.  Tough if you’ve got other commitments.  I found it took me much longer.  But I’m a slow reader and a slow writer.
  • Some of the course members do not get as involved as others which can be frustrating. (If you’re anally retentive like me and expect everyone to put in an equal effort).
  • Sometimes the sheer amount of critiquing required can be tiresome – I found by my fifth module it became more of a chore (though my personal commitments changed too, which put more pressure on my time).
  • Completing the many course exercises means you have a lot less time for writing for pleasure.
  • With an online course, you miss the joy of knowing people individually; a personal relationship; putting a face to a name.

Enough whinging!  How was it overall?

Though there might seem to be a lot of negatives, there are definitely far more pros than cons.  I certainly don’t regret doing it, and if I was in the same position, wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.  The course was invaluable to writing improvement, and I felt fantastic when I finished it.  What an achievement!

Bleurgh!  I need a shower. My armpits stink.

Bleurgh! I need a shower. My armpits stink.

Also, I’ve developed continuing relationships with some of the course members – we continue to critique each other’s work and offer friendship and support.  They are my safety net when I don’t have anyone else to turn to. (Not many within my family and friendship circles are interested in writing, so it can be a lonely business, especially when you’re feeling insecure – and it’s likely you’re in the same boat too).

In the future, I’m intending to do a Master’s, but at the present time, I’m all coursed out.  For now, I’ll keep on writing, but I’ll write for me, take some risks, and send off more submissions to competitions and magazines.

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I better get my hat back. I’ve got a big head, and I look stupid if it doesn’t fit.

And remember – all writing’s good, whether you do a course or not.  Practise is practise, so keep at it.

You know you want to.

Obviously this is all my opinion.  There are lots of good courses out there, but as I’ve had no experience of them, I can’t tell you what they’re like.  If you’ve taken part in a writing course, please stop by and let me know your experiences, whether they were online or on campus.  I’d love to hear.   Or maybe you don’t think they’re necessary. I’d like to hear what you think about that too.  

 

 

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6 Reasons to Write a Short Story

Calling all novelists – here’s how penning short stories might help you as a writer.

Writers In The Storm Blog

Happy Friday to all our friends here at WITS! We’re doing some extra special posts this week as an advance thank you for helping us migrate to our new site next week. All will be unveiled on Monday!

Today our pal, Julie Glover, is here. *Jenny jumps up and down* Here’s an example of why she’s one of our favorite peeps. When we told her y’all love nice meaty posts, Julie responded with:

“I hope I delivered. I’m even hoping it’s bacon. All posts should be like bacon.”

Enjoy!

*  *  *  *  *  *

My Sister's Demon, paranormal fiction by Julie Glover, @julie_glover

As a novel reader, I always believed I was meant to write full-length books. Yet I find myself entering the self-published market with a collection of short stories instead.

I wrote the first one on a lark—merely a story premise I wanted to get out of my system. But I liked the result…

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You’re a god of writing. Or are you?

Talented writers? Are they born or developed? Some people might say, if you have to go on a course to learn to write, you’re never going to be any good.

Questions are often raised as to whether writers needs to do a creative writing course in order to learn the basics of good writing. The view many people take is that, where creativity’s concerned, you’re either good or you’re not, and if you fit into the latter category, no course is going to give you a talent you weren’t born with.

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Yes, we all came out of the womb knowing how to do this. It was very painful for our mothers.

This is pretty unfair. Some might even go as far as to say it’s downright snobbery. Obviously, there are many writers who are naturally talented. They seem to know without thinking, what constitutes a good plot, what image will be most powerful, how to create natural dialogue that delivers most impact to the reader. Writers like these have a natural capacity to write from an early age, and they develop their skills through sheer hard work. As a result, they have little truck with writing courses. Who can blame them? They did it all themselves, so you should too. However, the way I see it is, these writers also have a natural confidence that drives them, and not all of us are that lucky.

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Do not interrupt. Genius at work. Any noise will cause his head to implode.

When I started to write, (after years of procrastination, and gazing at books I loved, thinking ‘I can never write like that’. I was right – I couldn’t, so instead I learned to write like myself) my prose-style was initially so full of holes, an elephant could have fallen through. My inclination was to over-explain everything, and I also found that my love-affair with language created an over-elaborate and flowery effect that was off-putting for the reader. This didn’t mean I was a bad writer – what I had in common with more accomplished writers was a love of books, a love of words, and a compulsion to write, that gave me a great starting point – but I clearly had a lot to learn.

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Popular writing mistakes.

Joining a writing course made me realise that there is a type of ‘science’ to good writing (a science, however, that does not have a ‘one rule fits all’ formula. Writers all have their own styles that these ‘scientific’ theories should not inhibit, but should instead, work alongside). Some people are aware of this ‘science’ instinctively, but many are like me – they need to learn how it works.. Once I learned what constituted good writing, I could apply this knowledge, and my writing improved significantly (though even now, beyond the course, I’m still learning and improving, and happy to do so.)

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Weirdly, staring at all these scientific numbers and symbols isn’t helping to get my novel moving along.

But of course, be warned. Doing a course by itself will not make you a good writer. You’re not going to improve if you’re not ready to change. You have to be prepared to take on the advice of others, you have to be ready to work hard, and you have to be open to adapting your writing. There’s a phrase that purports writers as the ‘god(s) of (their) own work’. This basically means that, whatever anyone else says, you are CREATOR, and so any final decision-making regarding your story is up to you. What it doesn’t mean is: ignore what everyone says, and don’t change a thing.

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Don’t you DARE tell me what to do with my story!

Being a GOD OF WRITING means a writer should take any constructive criticism and use it wisely. The critiquer isn’t always right, but then neither are you. You should think about what you were initially trying to achieve in your writing and how the constructive criticism fits within that framework, then change your writing based around your own view and theirs. Sometimes your initial idea is not going to work, and you might just have to give up on it. Your story might turn into something else entirely (this happens to me on a regular basis). It doesn’t matter – creativity has no boundaries. So what if your story isn’t how you intended, as long as it works in the end? Remember, your reader’s enjoyment is far more important than your initial idea or your ego.

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THIS ISN’T HOW MY STORY WAS MEANT TO GO!!!!!! *head explodes*

Okay, back to some sanity.  In the next blog post, I will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the creative writing course, and the one I enrolled on in particular.

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Writing Reality: Using Synaesthetic Imagery

Great article about using the concept of synaesthesia in writing. It’s something I’d never considered, but now I’ve been introduced to it, I wonder how it managed to pass me by as a writer. It’s a very effective way of getting across complex images. Fantastic.

celenagaia

There’s nothing I love more than to watch for the signs in life. Subtext, subtweet, crossed-wires, imagery, symbolism. In particular, the metaphor can create a beautiful path of words, drawing comparison between one image and another, so that the audience might walk to find themselves at a new truth, a fresh abstract landscape, rather than the tired old concrete definition of some reality.

Synaesthesia – “the transfer of information from one sensory modality to another”, or mingling of the senses – is often used to enhance imagery in writing. We find examples of this every day – “a bitter wind,” “a blue sound”, “a black funk.” As sense-imagery can be a vital part of drawing the audience into a scene, allowing them to experience what the narrative POV does (directly or by proxy), it stands to reason that the use of synaesthesia – the mingling of senses, or connecting…

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I’m Not Hungry Thanks

What do you do when someone asks you to critique their work and you’re really not impressed?  Do you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  Or do you lie?

As you’re a writer, it’s likely, at some point, that you’ve been approached by another writer to critique their work, probably because they know that it’s not quite right and need a second opinion.  If you’re familiar with them and their writing style – it’s a relatively easy task.  You’ve developed a relationship because you admire each other’s work, you’ve a mutual trust, and an understanding of what to expect.  The whole thing is straightforward – you can be honest, direct, and not tie yourself in knots as to whether you’ll upset them or not. However, it’s an entirely different matter if it’s someone you don’t know that well, but particularly, if it’s the work of someone who’s inexperienced.  Especially if there’s a lot that needs improving.  I don’t know about you, but for me, critiquing the work of someone I’m only vaguely familiar with sets off those anxious little voices in my head (yes, I have voices).  They call out:

You can’t tell them the truth.  

You’ll hurt their feelings.  

And then they’ll be upset.  

And you know who’ll be to blame!

YOU! 

When you’re in this situation (surely I can’t be the only one?), the first thing you should do is turn down the volume on those voices. (You’d never do anything if you took any stock of what they have to say).  The next thing is to consider the critique from the writer’s perspective (especially if they’re a novice).

It’s true that, after a few years of writing, I welcome (fair) constructive criticism, but when I started out, passing my work over for someone else to read made me want to:

  1. throw up;
  2. hide under a blanket;
  3. run away

I knew I was over-reacting. My rational side thought, get a grip woman – it’s only a piece of fiction.  I wasn’t confessing to a life as a prostitute in the window of an Amsterdam brothel (that’s another story)

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She wished she’d got some net curtains. She was sick of every Tom, Dick and Harry looking in when they walked past.

or kidnapping a busload of grannies in Torremolenos and keeping them hostage (best not go there).

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She knew she shouldn’t have left that open invite on Facebook.

Yet, despite this, as a new writer, I felt exposed and vulnerable, consumed by a very real and powerful fear.  My writing felt so personal, and I’d invested so much in it, that the possibility of any negative comments felt like a personal assault on me.  I’d set my creative bar so high, that if I lost my balance, I was scared the fall would be fatal.

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This circus trick course wasn’t all it was made out to be.

It’s this I try to remember when I feedback on someone else’s work: the huge impact we have on someone’s confidence when we tell them our thoughts about their creative abilities. As a reviewer, I’m not simply commenting on a story, but something that is personal to them.  The other thing I try to remember is the lessons I learned from others when I received critiques on my stories:

  • Show consideration for their feelings, and don’t be too blunt.
  • Even if it’s very flawed, it’s really important to make a big deal about the good aspects (pointing out things such as interesting story idea, strong voice, easy narrative style, good characterisation, natural dialogue, striking imagery, etc).
  • Only then, when you’ve buffered them to the hilt, do you describe the weaknesses (in my case, the usual suspects: not moving the story forward, too much irrelevant detail, unnecessary description, explaining too much, being too obvious, overuse of adjectives, cliched characters and cliched writing, too much telling, not enough showing.  I could go on).
  • It’s good to have two positives to every negative.
  • Don’t list TOO many negatives – especially if it’s a new writer.  You can always leave a few out.  The future of the Earth doesn’t depend on it.  It’s likely they’re going to send the story to you again, so you can always point out other issues then – once the writing is stronger.

Hearing the faults in a story isn’t pleasant reading for any writer, but if the positives are emphasised strongly enough, the negatives won’t make you want to scurry away, to hide for eternity, covered in cobwebs and cat wee, never to write again.  Instead, you’ll realise, your writing may not be perfect, but what you have instead is something solid to work with.

So, as a critiquer, what you should be serving to the writer, whatever their experience, is the classic shit sandwich.

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Tell me what the pros of writing are again?

Those two positives I mentioned earlier?  Those are the bread.  And the negative? Yep, that’s the shit filling.  You’ve got that, right?  The bread is a shock absorber to soften the blow.  You’re distracting them with something cosy and comforting to chew on (Mmmm! Thick white Warburtons bread)

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Mmmm, Warburtons. My favourite. What did you say that brown stuff was? Marmite?

before they realise what the smell is and the bad taste in their mouth.  (Do you need some water?)

It’s easy to see many negatives in a lot of new writing, and yes, you should tell the truth, but don’t be overly harsh.  Over-emphasising the positives is not being deceitful.  What you’re actually doing is giving a new writer the honesty they deserve, whilst simultaneously building up their creative confidence and self-esteem. It’s the persistence and practise that’s applied to writing – after an initial boost of confidence – that helps with improvement; the ability to apply the good, and to identify (and remove) the bad.

So, if we return to the shit sandwich analogy (yes, we must)…  Over time, if writers act on feedback, they learn to eliminate the shit from their sandwich until it’s nothing more than an occasional skid mark on the bread.

And maybe one day, if we’re lucky, there’ll be no mark left at all.

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Not that I’ll be eating that bread after I know what’s been on it.

 

 

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Filed under Short fiction, Uncategorized, Writer's resources, Writing

Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – The Birdhouse

My latest story on the Storgy website, with the stunning photography of Tomek Dzido as inspiration.

THE BIRDHOUSE

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

Stepping from the bus onto the estate, I smell bacon frying.  It’s years since I left, but nothing’s changed: the houses, clean and neat, overlook characterless gardens, and the street itself is airless; stagnant with marriage, kids, invisibility.   The bus drives away, and I’m abandoned with my rucksack, heavy on my back.

I look at the house.  Karen’s car is parked in the shared driveway.  She offered to pick me up from the station, but I said no.

‘Suit yourself.’

I see a bike, flung carelessly, to the right of Karen’s car, and I laugh, a small, indiscernible sound.

‘Seems to me, Charlie, you think the world owes you a favour.’

‘What -?’

‘Your bike. On the drive.’

‘Dad – I wasn’t…’

‘Money Charlie.  Hard-earned cash.  Bike’s aren’t free, you know?’

‘I -‘

‘You can’t look after anything – ’

‘Dad – I…

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Filed under Short fiction, Storgy, Writing