Now that the new year has well and truly settled in I thought it was more than time I stopped making excuses and got back to posting my blogs!
Since my last posting I have been doing lots of reading, been on holiday and even started to focus on improving and promoting some of the stories I have written but never returned to – it’s always much easier to think about going back at a future date to rewrite a piece of work than actually doing it – but such is life!
I admit it’s not been easy and that I’ve felt rather more like a naughty school girl who hasn’t done her homework than a writer polishing her work because I haven’t been producing new work. That said, the process has had its moments of enlightenment. There have been times, for example, in which I clearly see where a certain piece or paragraph lacks consistency or depth. The process has also helped me to appreciate how much growth there is still to gain. When I look at my work I feel a mixture of frustration at just how much further I have to go to reach that intangible “thing” I’m striving for, while at the same time recognizing that my skill at “colouring” in detail is improving.
On a positive, as far as actually promoting my work goes, I’ve got another short story titled Hunter Gatherer published with the talented folks at Wilderness House Literary Review here:
I’m sure many readers can relate to the subject I’ve written about here. I’ve seen different versions of this scenario played out so many times it was natural to give it a go and see if I could capture the essence of it. The characters were a mix of at least three different people each who I have known in my life both as a child and as an adult. This method helped me to build the right tone. The fun thing about fiction instead of fact is that we can build characters and situations to suit a story rather than being pinned down by fact! It was fun to write – capturing people behaving badly in public has always appealed to my sense of humour, and I think this helps.
I’d encourage anyone struggling for a topic to write about to go and do a “chore” either at home or out in public like going to the chemist, washing the car, cleaning – whatever “thing” you’d rather put off for some-time-never and pay close attention to your mind chatter (if alone) or to those around you. To take a step out of ourselves and see as the observer is always fascinating and will surely highlight a situation or thing in such an unexpected way that your creative self will feel that spark of creativity or indeed challenge to capture that in the form of a short story, poem – whatever it may be – just give it a go!
Good luck and keep going. As I said to a friend the other day, there is no such thing as a bad story. Look at it more like a starting point!
To follow on from my last post on the theme of “happy” writing, I’m going to post a 100 word story I wrote along with a short explanation of what I was seeking to achieve.
The restrictions of this particular piece were that the story had to be 100 words exactly (excluding title) to be written on any theme. While it doesn’t sound a lot, it’s constantly surprising how much can indeed be said with so few words – a great exercise in learning the value of a word and its potential in a story.
I approached the process with the idea that I wanted to capture a mood rather than tell a story. With my eyes closed I imagined golden sunshine and the warmth of it on my characters head bringing “mood/mischief” to the character and fire to her hair. The mood was light and slightly naughty. I took the decision to keep things light, clean and wanted her to have a little fun that maybe was a little “naughty” in an innocent way. This brought me to the flying-fox and her indulging in a little child-like fun with a sense of joy. It was very much a colour pallet of golden summer, warmth, fun and a sense of letting inhibition go to play.
I hope that when you read it you are warmed by the sheer joy of the piece and that it inspires you to write a “happy” story of your own – try 100 words – how hard can it be?!
MISCHIEF IN POLLY-COTTON NICKERS
Sun shone like fire in her copper hair as she climbed the wooden steps. It wasn’t high, but the effort made her puff. At the top she stopped and looked around. With a nod she reached up and grabbed the metal bar and leapt into the air whooping. Her skirts and hair flew. The sensation of flying, running, being naughty, made her heart sing. Before the tyre wall she let go, landing on her back. She lay there thinking how big the sky looked. Laughter bubbled from her belly, shaking her whole body. She wondered what her children would say.
With most if not all forms of writing, whether it be long or short, tension is used to capture the reader’s attention. This is a basic rule that helps turn something potentially dull, like doing the grocery shopping, into something far more interesting – if there is a dispute over what kind of yoghurt to buy for instance. The challenge I’ve set myself lately is to not fall into the trap of only using “negative” tension to create interest in a story. It’s of course not so easy in practice… But, it can be done!
I admit I’ve been having a blast immersing myself in pools of positivity by using language evoking colour, warmth joy in my stories. Just think of a moment in time when you last felt true joy and how brightly coloured everything was, how positive the future, how surprisingly friendly people seemed – capture this energy, these sensations and weave them into your character, into the setting by highlighting something so simple like the pattern on the wallpaper, texture of the sky – you get the idea!
And so now you have a “positive” flow, movement and that feeling of joy translated into the “ordinary” that the reader can relate to in their own life. My idea is to continue with these short stories and flashes and compile another collection of short stories and will post the link just as soon as it’s up and running.
In the meantime, enjoy the process, tell your brain it can do it, and spread the joy!
Happy reading and writing.
In this posting I’m going to explore the process I went through when writing the flash Clear Sky Morning which is published in the April 2015 edition (international) of Flash Frontier. The theme was iron and I was (as usual) quite lost as how to start – that’s always the trick… It’s only once I find a trailing string of thought or emotion that things start to shape up. Anyway, this one started with gazing at an indifferent pale sky and I was feeling like rubbish because I had my period. And there it was – a flash of inspiration. All-of-a-sudden the word “iron” was translated into blood and the sky was suggestive of “nothing”, an emptiness or absence. In my mind I could see an old-fashioned bath in a bare bathroom. So now, with the “feel” of setting then I sought the “narrative” voice. It was like I could hear the character speaking her truth in the form of an internal dialogue – a form of writing that helped to create an air of intimacy or even the feel of eavesdropping on someone’s thoughts. From this point it was a matter of paying attention to the “feel” of the piece and making sure the dialogue was authentic.
As usual I enjoyed the process of making each word “work” for its place. I find that to play with all the connotations of a word often brings far more depth than long explanations because it doesn’t take you away from the story and your connection to it. Then it was a matter of building the story sentence by sentence. Interestingly when I had the basic out-line of the story down I saw I had only written around 140 words. This made me read through what I had to look for the gaps – what had I not said, what needed filling in…? By the time I had brought it up closer to the word limit of 250 words I found I had a story with far more depth and also more of a back-story.
You can find this story along with an incredible collection of other stories written to the same theme of Iron below:
This week I’m writing about the story The Belle Of Ireland that I wrote for Writers Block on Plains FM. The competition theme was Ireland and this took me straight back to my brief visit to Dublin some years ago. Even now I remember the city as being hard and grey – an impression that was only softened when it rained. I remembered walking past Saint Patrick’s Cathedral that was locked and following a trail of blood that if not suggesting fatality something very close and how people just walked all over it as if it weren’t there. I heard later that night on the news that a Ukrainian had indeed been stabbed and died in that area. Another day found a large group of Spanish students gesticulating loudly at the legs of a man protruding from the front wheels of a large truck. Then while scouring this city full of people and products from anywhere that wasn’t Ireland (I make a habit of buying locally made: or at least try!) the final image I stumbled across that stuck was of a couple meeting outside the bus-depot and how close they pressed their bodies together – and I was half way there to capturing the “feel” at least. From there I thought about all those jokes about “knee tremblers” – a term referring to a couple having sex standing up and how Ireland herself has suffered economically over recent years. The rest came sentence by sentence as I explored the hopes, dreams and fears of my young lady who tries in her own way to find some way out of her misery.
You can find the link to this story along with a selection of other Flash Fiction on the Writers Block podcast here:
A couple of years ago I wrote 6 stories that were inter-related. The idea was to create a small collection. After letting these stories sit for a year I sent them to Michelle Elvy of Flash Frontier fame and asked her professional opinion if they were worth getting edited. She said yes and did this for me. Afterwards I worked to reduce the total word count below 5 thousand words and submitted it to a local writing competition – nothing happened. While I was happy with my work, I had little confidence it’d succeed and so did nothing further. Michelle was more optimistic and encouraged me to try again. The result is that this selection of short stories is currently published on Wilderness House Literary Review’s Spring Edition 2015 – thank you, Michelle!
I think the lesson here is to keep going, even when we can’t see any end to the vacuum we appear to be operating in as writers. The flip side is that now I feel the pressure of doing it again!
The stories in The Girl With No Name came from the idea of a young woman who wasn’t really “present” in her own life. I put her through a series of events to see what would wake her up. I did this by creating other characters around her, exploring their relationships and their backgrounds – to see why they were the way they were and let things take their course. For me it’s always interesting to understand a character’s actions. Nothing happens by chance – there is always a reason for why someone reacts the way they do. Ultimately, the characters appear brutal in their actions, but this is done without judgement. I felt a certain amount of sympathy for them, because to my mind they were just as much victims of circumstance as perpetrators of crime.
If anyone would like me to go through each segment of this collection and explore how I came to write them in greater detail just post a request and I’ll do my best to oblige.
You’ll find the link to this collection at Wilderness House Literary Review here:
And in case you’re wondering how many stories I got written this week? 1! Happy reading and writing.
I can’t say how many times I’ve heard or read that writing should be treated like any job where one turns up at 9 o’clock every morning to turn out a consistent body of work. The thing I find frustrating about the very notion is they don’t say “how”. It’s like being told diet and exercise is the only way to lose weight. For starters – I already know that – tell me “how” – spell it out, please! Another thing is that we all operate differently and somehow we need to figure out our own way to arrive at the same goal.
For me the first and most consistent hurdle has been figuring out how to get past the mind chatter that tells me “I’m tired”, “I don’t have anything to say”, “I can’t do it” and unclench the brain enough to let a notion pass through. What I did about it was I started to argue. Each time the voice in my head said “I can’t” I would respond “of course I can’” and on it went. One day something simply clicked in my head and I realised I didn’t have to fight anymore and that in fact writing could be a joy. I simply told myself I could do it – and I did!
Taking away the self-imposed pressure of “I have to” and replacing it with “I can” has allowed the creative process the oxygen it needs to breathe. Combining this with a starting point such as something your eye was drawn to during the previous day, an overheard conversation or an object in your room to take as your theme will give you that toe-hold you need to get started. It doesn’t matter if your story goes in a completely different direction – these things tend to have a life of their own. What does matter is that we write. Think of it another way – what do writers do if it isn’t write? Not every day is equal, nor will our work shine as we would like every time we sit down to work. The thing we get out of the “allowing” ourselves to write is practice, a sense of purpose and occasionally a story that rewards us for our efforts.
I haven’t got to the writing everyday stage yet and I’m not in a hurry. I believe it’s important to work at our own natural pace and build up to things. If I write two short stories a week I’m satisfied and any more just makes life fantastic – keeping in mind this is my goal and reality doesn’t always match expectation! What I don’t want is to turn writing into a chore – there’s nothing more surely to stifle the creative process (for me at least). I want to enjoy writing – there’s something deeply personal about breathing life into characters – it’s a bit like meeting a new best-friend – these things take time and should be a pleasure.
In short, all I can say is take it easy on yourself and remember to play – we’re all slightly wonky at the end of the day, it’s just some of us are more obvious than others!
So, I thought I had posted this article last week, but note it isn’t live. Clearly technology isn’t my strong point — here’s hoping second time lucky!
This piece, titled Asylum Whispers, was specifically written for Flash Frontiers February 2015 issue themed Whispers. Every month or so the very talented Michelle Elvy and her team (along with guest editors) run this competition with different nominated themes. Themes are a great way to get a story started and having a word limit really helps to keep it focused – I’ve learned the value of a word and how to really trim back those sentences! It took many failed attempts before I had my first story published here, but I kept coming back for more because of the high standard of stories featured, and also Michelle’s valuable feed-back. The discipline of writing flash fiction (in this case 250 words or less) has definitely made me stronger as a writer and I would encourage anyone to give it a go. The funny thing is that when I finally had a story go on-line… Well, I was terrified! The thought of my desperate scribblings being included with other “real” writers was unexpectedly embarrassing. I learned to get over my discomfort by telling myself that my story wouldn’t have been chosen if it weren’t good enough. And so I carry this philosophy to this very day!
Now on to this latest story published on Flash Frontier and how I came to write it. Well, it had been many weeks since I had written anything more than an e-mail and I was lost as to how to start. Then I decided to take a break from my regular exercise of self-castigation for not writing and did some reading for inspiration. I listened to a series of 3 short stories on the BBC dedicated to Vienna and much to my surprise I was inspired! It was the feeling that they left me with that I wanted to capture. Being a writer I should be able to put this feeling into words, but I struggle to do so. The closest I can get is to describe it as a feeling of aloofness, enduring time and that sense of coming up against something far greater than oneself. This led me down a further train of thought involving a sense of hypocrisy, conflicting values and actions – and so the story came. I enjoyed the process that much more because I wasn’t trying to place it within the New Zealand context, but simply let it be. I also allowed myself the freedom to explore higher thought. In the past I’ve determinedly planted my stories in the ground so that they wouldn’t be too obscure. But since I decided that I needed to break out of my comfort zone and extend myself I thought that this might also include freeing myself from creative constraints. I was delighted when Michelle contacted me to say it had been selected for publication! You see, while I was very happy within myself with the story – it’s always gratifying to have external validation.
You can read this story along with an incredible collection of others all inspired by the theme Whispers here:
Next week I’ll write about unclenching the mind and allowing the creative process to flow. In the meantime, enjoy the journey!
It’s been a couple of weeks since I did my last post and I admit it’s really hard getting back into the flow. The break in one way has been good because I wanted to change my approach a little, but of course it hasn’t made things any easier! Nor was the break totally intentional – more a case of an ailing AWOL cat who demanded all my attention. On the plus side I was forced out of my comfort zone and got to know all my neighbours and the names of their fabulous feline companions.
In the meantime I’ve also given myself the challenge of developing my writing skills to a higher level by way of discovering more depth, perception and possibly even allowing myself the freedom of expression without worrying about the “New Zealand Context”. I think this is quite possibly a bit of a learning curve, to understand that while I am, and will always be, a New Zealander this does not mean I have to always be within this constricted context. To put this another way, there is a New Zealand artist called Lisa Wilkins-Pirika who I admire greatly for the beauty, passion and vibrancy she shows through her art. She is predominantly known for her work as a Maori artist and these works are truly beautiful. However, for one exhibition she displayed a piece which was of a scene in Amman and she could have sold it several times over. What this showed me was that first and foremost she’s an artist full of life and colour and the ability to convey this on canvas and does not need to restrict herself solely to the NZ context for people to recognize her talent. It’s taken me a while for the message to filter through in relation to my writing, but I got there! For me it’s been a matter of building a strong sense of who I am and where I come from before daring to spread my wings and test new climes.
If you want to hear me talking about what’s brought me this far you can click on the link below where Celine Gibson from Writers Block on Plains FM came and interviewed me about the flash fiction I’ve done here:
Next week I’ll write more about where I am now in the creative process and feature one of my more recent works. Until then enjoy the journey, and remember we’re all human and equally capable of making mistakes – that’s what makes us real.
The final story in my collection under the title Paprika Coloured Dream is called Snow Man. It captured a moment in time which brought clarity and understanding for me. A very personal realization that the relationship I was in was never going to work because of the fundamental differences in character. This was fertile ground indeed for someone in the creative arts! It was only when exploring this particular piece that I understood my own situation and how things simply “were”. There is no judgement – something that is very important for me as a writer. Given that by the very nature of creating our characters we instil a piece of ourselves in them – it is important that we create a safe environment for them to explore and develop – such as we, the author, would require.
I started the process with the image I had in my head of this couple toiling up a snowy mountain landscape and put this image into a freeze-frame. Then I explored the feelings and ultimate realization that came from that moment that was probably only seconds long. It explores the irreconcilable differences between the two characters and a lack of empathy or indeed understanding through thought and action.
What I hope to share with the reader is that we are who we are and that no amount of will-power will make the truth go away or indeed change!
You’ll find the link to this final story in my collection here: