Monday, 27 October 2014

Easy Living?

How are you all? The weather's broken here - you can almost hear the plants in the garden sighing with relief. It was so hot this summer that the car thermometer was still hitting 58 on the school run in September, and two six foot orchid trees grown from plant souq cuttings incinerated. Now the tougher bougainvilleas and frangipanis are bouncing back. Living in constant air conditioning it's a shock, sometimes to go outside into blast furnace heat (particularly if you've been writing about winter). In the house there's European furniture, books, the internet Roberts radio constantly set to the Beeb. Sometimes you forget where you are. You could be in, oh, Winchester or London ... *stares off into distance*.

First flower on the oleander this morning

It's curious that so many plants which do well here are poisonous and/or thorny. Perhaps you have to be tough to survive. 

So how's your writing going? I've been trying to figure out a 'way in' to writing about all this sometime - the ideas for a novel are beginning to bloom. It's a tricky place to write about, but there's something 'English Patient meets The Sheltering Sky' forming for a few books down the line. I'm not ready to write it yet but I let one of the characters (or what will no doubt be an early version of her), 'talk' and I wrote a radio play about her. I heard the BBC World Service International Playwriting Competiton being advertised and thought I'd give it a go. I've written film scripts and stage plays but not radio, and just wanted to try flexing a different writing muscle while I was twiddling my thumbs between edits of the new novel - it was amazing to hear this week that 'Like Amber and Musk' won the regional category. Now to see how to get it broadcast. If you're interested in writing for radio, take a look at the link above - there are lots of interviews with playwrights and good material about how to think your way through a script which is purely auditory. I had no idea how to format a script or what to do and figured it out from their website (the Writers Room is also good), so you can too. Why not give it a go?

'There's nothing like boredom to make you write' Agatha Christie

Writing for drama is pretty liberating, and fast, compared to novels. I watched a doc about Agatha Christie the other night, a writer who found huge success in both forms. There were so many 'me toos' hearing about her childhood: the Devon countryside, the first, murderous childhood poetry, the plays written for toys and pets, the very healthy dose of boredom that makes you entertain yourself with reading and writing, creating worlds a bit more interesting than an isolated, wild home between the moors. From around eight or nine I devoured all her books - and I mean all, collecting them with pocket money with the same obsessiveness I now see my daughter collecting first Harry Potter, then Twilight, then Divergent and John Green.

Now, thousands of miles away from home, thanks to social media I'm oddly more connected to the world than I was growing up. But there is little to distract from writing.

Meanwhile, life goes on elsewhere - 'The Perfume Garden' reached #3 on the main Kindle chart a couple of weeks ago, galleys are in from New York, and a beautiful new edition of 'The Beauty Chorus' is out in Norway:

'Truly Madly Deeply' the RNA anthology which features 'The Language of Flowers' also hit #1 romance and #12 over all in the charts. When I told a relation this, she said 'You are lucky. You hear so many stories about how difficult it is for writers, and you have been so lucky, it's been so easy'.

Deep breath.

NB: This bit is for new writers. If you are a reader, and would like to continue to think novels pop effortlessly into the world, skip down to the picture of the pug and saluki

Lucky - sure, there's an element of that. Easy - no. But I've caused her quite enough worry with my life choices (the least of which is living here - she seems to know more about what is going on from the Mail than we do from the local radio). The truth is perhaps I've shielded her from some of the more ... challenging moments in my career to date ('Oh that? I'm Fine ...'). But for any new writers reading this and wondering how long it takes to write a book, or when will you ever get published, here is a crash course in the fine art of falling down seven times and standing up eight, and a few tips learnt from experience that you might find useful:
  • It is your choice whether to write or not - the world doesn't owe your 'art' an audience or you a living, nor is it holding its breath to read your manuscript, so you might as well enjoy the process, never moan and give it your best shot.
  • Find a group of writers in real life or online - support one another, cheer one another, critique and console. 
  • Send out the best work you can. Write the first draft with all the passion of first love, but do not submit to agents/publishers the moment you type 'the end'.
  • Let anything new cool off for as long as you can - then edit. Good writing is rewriting. A great editor is a god-send.
  • It's not about you. Put down your ego and pick up a pencil. Your job is to entertain and move your readers. Tell them stories that make them feel and make them think.
  • Do not give up the day job. 
  • If you want wealth, success, or god forbid to be 'famous' there are easier ways than writing a novel.
  • The recent Booker winner said he regularly burnt his scripts on the barbie. I kept our fire going in Spain for months using rejection slips and first drafts as kindling. Rejection and making mistakes are all part of learning - keep going.
  • To be a writer you need the imagination, curiosity and clear, mischievous heart of a child and the hide of an old rhinoceros who has been around the block a few times.
  • Do not read reviews. The boost of the good ones does not outweigh the crushing misery of the bad ones (which you will recall word for word) - reviews often say more about the reviewer than they do about your book, anyway.
  • Whatever you do, don't respond to duff reviews online, or get your friends to gang up. Equally, don't feed the trolls.
  • But do listen with good grace to criticism from people you trust (writing tutor, agent, editor, critique partner). If you find a great agent/teacher/editor you really *are* lucky. A great, successful book is a team effort and the story has been on a long journey from the writer's first glimmer of an idea.
  • Have the guts to stick to your guns when it really, really counts. Write the book you need to write. If it doesn't work/sell/top the charts, write the next one, and write better.
  • If you want a career as a writer, let work go and write the next one. Creativity works in a 'flow' state, and to keep ideas flowing you need to release your work.
  • Checking emails twenty times a day after submitting a story/article/novel is the way to madness - write the next one.
  • If you want to write, read. 
  • Don't give up when it gets tough, because that is when something interesting is about to happen.
  • In your darkest moments, tell yourself it is all good material. Forget keep calm - keep writing, keep moving forward. Walk if you can't write. Tell yourself stories. One foot, one word at a time. Sing. Dance. Get your creativity flowing some other way - paint a room, paint a picture, play music that you love. Read old favourites. Creep up on your writing sideways like you would a wounded creature, gently. Be kind to yourself. As ever, helping other people is often the best way to mend a broken heart. Amazing things can happen. Keep a notebook with you - just in case.
  • And remember - read as much as you write. The reason you started writing was because you loved books. Try not to lose sight of that.
All of which is advice I could still do with remembering sometimes, and a long way of saying no it has not been 'easy', and it never will be - if it was, every soul who 'has a novel in them' would get the novel out of them. 

I hope that makes at least one new writer reading this post feel a bit better. 

And to readers: Happy reading.

View from the desk - K x
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