The Many Facets of the Writing Life

Where did the last three months go?

May was mainly about Italy and flash fiction, retreating in the idyllic (but rather cold and wet!) setting of Casperia in the Sabine Hills north of Rome, in the company of ace tutors Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman and an inspiring group of fellow writers. Lots started there that will surely bear fruit in the future. And at the end of the week we got to read our work in a bookshop in Rome!Reading in RomeReading in the Otherwise Bookshop, photo courtesy of Jayne Martin

June went by in a flurry of visits to Hay to hear writers many and various speaking, London – where I met up with my publisher number 2 Louise Walters and her team at a book launch for Laura’s Laakso‘s Fallible Justice, and Bristol for more flash fiction and meet-ups with writing friends at the 2019 Flash Fiction Festival.

July has been about edits for novella number 2 and reading, lots of reading. As one of the team of judges for the Not the Booker prize last year, I get to help select one of the shortlist for this year’s prize. Our choice will be revealed very soon!

Now to get on with some new writing…

 

May Days

I love the spring, with its fresh greens, and bluebells and the may (hawthorn) trees coming into flower. I’m getting out into the hills as often as possible now, training for a sponsored trek on Hadrian’s Wall! And walking is always a great way to refresh the brain and inspire writing.

I’ve had lots of writerly good fortune these past few weeks, with both my second novella AND my collection of short stories signed. So, all being well, I will achieve my ambition to have three books published by the time I’m 70! And The Plankton Collector got a special mention in the Saboteur Awards Novella category this year.

I’m so delighted that Retreat West Books are going to be publishing The Garden of Earthly Delights, my short story collection inspired by the paintings and drawing of Hieronymus Bosch. They’re a publisher with a great environmental ethic. And on the shortlist for the Saboteur Awards in the Most Innovative Publisher category. Voting is open until 12th May.

I’m also very excited to be going to Italy next week, to write flash fiction in a group being led by Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman. Hoping for wine and sunshine too!! Report at the end of the month!

Bluebells at Coed-y-Bynedd
Bluebells at Coed-y-Bwnydd hill fort, Monmouthshire

Guest Post: Sal Page on her writing journey

It’s been a while since I’ve had a guest on the site. Today I welcome Sal Page, with her thoughts on writing.

Writing and Me

Ah writing! This is something I do. I’ve tried to stop. Several times. I once wrote nothing but work stuff for four years. That horrible job. But it’s not a nice way to live. I missed it. I like having a story on the go, or two or three. Or the occasional poem or even a play. A novel, or two or three, that may never see the light of day but boy, did I enjoy writing them. And, yeah maybe writing helps keeps you sane.

Not that I call myself a writer. I’m just someone who writes.

I don’t believe, as many seem to, that when writing you have to suffer. I know it’s tough writing a novel synopsis but, if you’re talking blood, sweat and tears, I could tell you about all those from working in kitchens for thirty-plus years.

Neither do I think there’s ever going to be any money in it for me, although obviously on the odd occasion we mention writing to those that don’t, we’re suddenly going to be ‘the next JK Rowling’ so there might be some cash involved there.

The truth is I’ve made just over £700 from writing … since 1986. Yes, I’ve been writing for some time. I make close to that per month now, as a part time cook. So, I’m a cook and someone who writes.

Recently, I’ve been leaving flash, stories and novels behind, in favour of memoir and non-fiction. I’ve started writing my weight loss memoir/self-help book, The Impossible Thing. (#TheImpossibleThing, my own hashtag!) In the past three years, four months I’ve lost 101 pounds (7 stone 3). I’m aiming to lose 130 pounds and to keep it off. Then I’ll be qualified to finish this book and maybe it will, somehow, reach a few readers. Sal Page solves the obesity crisis single-handedly.

The next chapter I plan to write is a memoir one about being at school. In the spring of 2017, I wrote a blogpost that listed the names I got called at school. This was quite a moment. I could never have dreamt I’d go from being deeply ashamed and embarrassed and not telling a soul to telling, effectively, the world.

I love everything about writing. Having ideas, thinking about them, writing notes, getting stuck into a first draft, letting things lie, talking about writing on Twitter, reading other people’s work and putting my spoke in, redrafting, editing, tinkering, perfecting, submitting, having things accepted or rejected, getting listed, placed, winning, reading in open mics or being invited to read ‘cos I’m placed or the winner. I love the little shelf of anthologies with my stories in, my Amazon page and rereading things I wrote years ago and still love ‘cos they’re mine.

Why do you write?’ is a question often asked on Twitter. My answers are always ‘It can stop me thinking about food’, ‘I can create a world and control everything in it’ and ‘It’s FUN.’

Yeah. Writing. What’s not to like?

Thanks to Cath for inviting me to write this piece for her website.

Sal Page

Sal Page

NaNoWriMo

Alongside thousands of other people round the world, I’ve signed up to write a novel in a month during November. The aim is 50,000 words and on day 18 I’m at 28,103, so I’m confident I can reach the target by the 30th.

This is not a competition, except insofar as any of us are competing with ourselves. I’m doing it because it’s a great kick up the backside to do something I’ve always said to date I’d never do!!!

So, here’s what I can tell you about my novel. The title is There is a Shape to Everything. Here’s what I wrote as a synopsis when I started:

Mother Miriam and daughter Sylvana travel to Kathmandu to celebrate their 50th and 21st birthdays respectively by taking a trek in the Himalayas together. 

Before they set off on the trek there is an earthquake and mother disappears. Sylvana pairs up with Vic, a Nepali maker of thangkas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings) whose son Prem has also disappeared. Together they travel in search of Miriam and Prem.

Back home in Wales, Tritta, a friend of Sylvana’s, receives messages from both her and Miriam which set her off on a journey of her own.

Tritta has not put in much of an appearance, but various other characters have, including a man with a scar in the shape of a snake on his forehead. He’s obviously a baddie…

And the imagery in the Buddhist paintings is pretty important, that’s for sure.

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Buddhist painting, Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery, Kathmandu.

Photo: Cath Barton

 

 

 

 

Guest post: Interview with author Mike Scott Thomson

It’s good to hear different voices on the site. Here’s what English author Mike Scott Thomson has to say about his writing:

CB: I’ve read and enjoyed your stories in Visual Verse – you obviously like responding to pictures and do so imaginatively and in vivid prose. Have you used picture prompts much for other stories you’ve written?

MST: Thank you for your kind words, Cath. For me, picture prompts have provided a useful exercise in letting those creative energies flow: to build a brand new story, which I might not have thought to write otherwise. They can also provide fresh ideas, boost confidence, and are a brilliant method to get that keyboard tapping. I should use them more often.

What other kinds of stimuli do you use for your writing?

My fictions tend to arise from all sorts of different sources: perhaps a blurry, re-imagined glimpse from hazy memories; perhaps an overheard snatch of conversation, or an intriguing bon mot, stripped of its original context; however, instead it often comes from a slab of bureaucratic lunacy to which I cannot help but administer a good old British lampooning. For example, my story which won the inaugural ‘To Hull and Back’ humorous short story competition stemmed from an occasion at work where we were made to express our activities as a fraction of an integer onto a timesheet coded with 14 different colours, then upload them to a shared disc drive defined by a dollar sign, a wiggly squiggle and a pair of square brackets. Figuring out what that meant proved fruitless for the purpose it was intended, but I did get a good comic story out of it.

Of the books you’ve read this year, which one would you most recommend and why?

Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’, and also its first three sequels. They’re full of literary references, are extremely funny, and Fforde himself is a superb plotsmith. Prior to reading them, I ploughed through Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, under the impression some background knowledge would be helpful. As it turned out, that wasn’t entirely necessary; his books are a good way to glean a broad understanding of the classics without having to embark on marathon reading sessions. (That said, I did like Jane Eyre too.)

If you could have three wishes granted for your writing, what would they be?

Well, I’m still haunted by the events of W.W. Jacob’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, having first read it decades ago. If I did indeed wish for flawless first drafts, a lucrative lifetime publishing deal, and hundreds of millions of impatient and adoring readers, then what macabre consequences would accompany such desires? (Besides, it’d be cheating.) Instead, I’d wish to become more of a morning person (so I can fit in writing shifts before starting the commute), an approximate 10% increase in self-confidence in my writing ability (too much would be damaging, I feel), and a fervent desire that nobody in the world – ever, ever again, ever – misspells my surname with a ‘p’.

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Bio: Mike Scott Thomson’s short stories have been published by journals and anthologies, and have won or placed in a few competitions, including ‘To Hull and Back’, InkTears, and Writers’ Village. Based in south London, he works in broadcasting. You can find him online at http://www.mikescottthomson.com and on Twitter at @michaelsthomson.