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…

 

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.

Reflections on writing (No 1 in an occasional series)

Like all writers, I read as much as I can. I do this primarily for enjoyment rather than as an academic exercise, but of course it informs my own writing.

As I embark on a year’s mentoring I’m learning more about so-called ‘rules’ of writing, or at least recommendations. One of these is that dialogue is good. It breaks up the text, makes it easier to read. I’m a (fairly) diligent student and I’m currently sowing dialogue through the short stories I’m writing.

Another recommendation is to use the active voice. Passivity distances the reader. Yes, I’ve bought into that one.

Don’t jump from one point of view to another. Very confusing for the reader. Okay, must bear that in mind.

I am greatly encouraged when I read other people’s work which breaks these ‘rules’. I’ve just devoured Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 (2017). I have followed Jon McGregor’s work since his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002). This book became a success by word of mouth. Since then McGregor has gone on to become ‘a prize-winning author’. I put that phrase in inverted commas because, affirming as that may be, it’s just one thing about him, not for me a defining characteristic.

After I’d finished the book I looked up some one-star reviews, curious to know why anyone would not love this book as much as I did. Criticisms include it being boring, that nothing happens, difficulty of keeping track of multiple characters and, interestingly, lack of dialogue and the use of the passive voice. I think the problem is that people have certain expectations of a book, instead of reading it on its own terms. A cursory glance at the blurb on the back will tell you that this is not a conventional murder mystery story.

The comment that ‘Anyone could write a book like this’ is, frankly, crass. If one day I can write something that is halfway as compelling as Reservoir 13 I will be a very happy person. I’ll never write in the same way as Jon McGregor and neither do I want to do so. I want to use my own voice, and while I will think about writing ‘rules’, I will also feel free to break them.