Thursday, June 28, 2007
This is Libbon, a very stylish British short story magazine which is onto its fourth issue and has printed my story 'Passing'. Look them up at:
http://www.libbon.co.uk/index.htm - and maybe take out a subscription. Just think of it this way - you'd only have to give up about half a latte or capuccino a week and you'd end up with a year's worth of literature.
If we don't keep our small publications alive, fellow writers, they won't be there when we want to see our work in print!
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The Champagne Method of Writing
Picking up on both Sara and Martin’s comments, I want to grab this chance to reiterate my belief system (or part of it) in relation to writing.
I didn’t train as a writer, and came to the profession late. As a result, my techniques are based in other disciplines and careers; photographic modelling, conflict resolution, and factory and hotel management to name just four! Nobody ever told me it should be a painful, draining process to write, nor that I should expect rejection, nor that I should suffer. They did tell me those things about modelling, but actually I breezed through my short, undistinguished career in front of the camera; having a great time, not developing any neuroses that I didn’t have before, and making friends who’ve lasted for decades. As a result of all this, and of years spent listening to different sides in insoluble conflicts expounding their beliefs, I’m very sceptical about ‘mythologies’. Here are a few.
1 - Success is a continuous upward curve
2 - Creative people are more prone to depression
3 - You have to suffer for your art.
Success is actually more like a tide – it ebbs and flows. Don’t believe me? Read the autobiography of almost any scientist, creator or business mogul. Make a chart on the back of the envelope of their ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times, ideas or initiatives. I’m prepared to bet it’s more like a Mexican wave than an upward line.
Creative people are BETTER at getting help for depression. Find those statistics about writers committing suicide etc and compare them to the general population cohort during the same period. Almost always you’ll find that artists and writers are in fact UNDER represented in serious mental health problems. However, they are also much more likely to be honest about mental health issues, which is why the story comes about. First because they seek help early and so show up statistically as ‘ill’ rather than just ‘committed to institution’ and second because they communicate their mental health much more honestly than many other professions. Finally, they show up because they are noteworthy - how often do you hear ‘steelworker drowns himself in river’ or ‘shopworker commits suicide with shotgun’? But if I say Virginia Woolf and Papa Hemingway … sounds familiar doesn’t it?
You only have to suffer for your art if you choose to – seriously, it’s true. Go back to those autobiographies and read them again. Yes, many writers and artists find their creative pursuit difficult at times, but if you highlight their positive experiences in one colour and their negative ones in another, you will find that for most people, writing about their own creative life, the good massively outweighs the bad. The thing is, good times don’t make for great news stories, so the media spout about the van Gogh ear and fail to comment on the years of happy vagabond life with good friends on the open road, travelling, eating on the hoof, debating, getting drunk and so on. Or they ignore many happy, contented and utterly fulfilled creative people entirely – what do you know about Georgia O’Keeffe for example? Or Willa Cather? Not a lot, I’ll bet – but everybody knows how Virginia Woolf died.
If you believe these mythologies, you tend to accrete their trappings to your own creativity. I prefer the mythologies of sport, like the endless effortless running of Paul Tergat, for example, or the late blooming of Paula Radcliffe, and by attaching those mythologies to my creative pursuits, I have positive models that I use when things get tough. Paula was written off as a runner before she became the world’s marathon queen – so it’s never too late. And Paul says ‘Running is about the pleasure of your feet, not the pain. Who can run well if they are thinking about pain?’ So choosing those icons allows me to assume writing should be pleasurable and that the best is yet to come – so far, it’s working fine for me!
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Let’s start at the start – there are some things about book launches that annoy me; one of which is the tendency to treat people who turn up for them like second-class citizens. There’s often a time of milling and hanging around, especially if, like me, you’ve travelled some distance for the event and have to arrive either early or late – having opted for the politer option: early, I found it frustrating to be assiduously ignored by everybody involved in the organisation of the launch. A suggestion – why don’t book launch organisers put together a couple of sheets of information about the book, it’s author and the venue, run it through a photocopier and leave a pile on the table so that folk have something to pick up and read – it would cost almost nothing and relieve the awful embarrassment of attenders feeling (forgive my vulgarity) like a spare prick at a wedding.
The appetisers, made from recipes contained in the book, were on two tables with the wine – and they were very good indeed. Clotilde’s book was piled on a coffee table with four chairs round it. By this time there were twenty people in the room. One of the organisers commented that he’d never seen such a crowd (and yes, I felt like saying better organisation would probably help you get bigger crowds still!)
We, the audience, had a dilemma - were we to pick up the books, or not? Were they on sale, or not? We didn’t know. Finally a woman told us they were, “Nine pounds ninety-nine, cash or cheque only,” she said. Yup, exactly that, like talking to the speaking clock. I gave her my tenner, was not offered a penny back (okay, it’s a small thing but hey, it’s my penny!) and was given a sticky note to write my name on, for Clotilde to sign the book.
And where was Clotilde? Round the corner of the L-shaped room, hidden behind a harpsichord. Don't ask why, it seemed utterly bizarre to me, and by now I'd almost lost the will to live. And this is where the evening suddenly got better, because she was charming, friendly and personable, apologising to every purchaser for the need for the sticky note but explaining “I can’t talk and write at the same time, and it’s impossible for me not to talk to you all, so I look at the name you’ve written so I don’t make mistakes.” A nice personal touch that, and completely professional.
Once the signing was over and we all sat down - by now there were around fifty of us - Clotilde gave us a short talk about how a software engineer gets to write cookbooks. The salient facts were that the book contains all new recipes because she didn’t want loyal readers to be disappointed by finding she’d re-hashed material they’d already seen, and that when she’s cooking she’s always thinking ‘will this work for the blog’ which is how she builds material – she also said that it’s great that culinary failures can be turned into blogs by describing what went wrong!
She was fluent, interesting and enthusiastic, repeated questions back to the audience during the Q and A and generally revealed herself to be a consummate professional as a communicator and a passionate foodie. About halfway through the session we began to smell wonderful chocolaty aromas and when the talk was over, we were treated to two different chocolate desserts, a cake and a cookie, both of which were superb and which had been prepared by her Mum!
Summary – fifty plus people attended, most of whom bought a book, at least three of whom bought three books or more, the mathematics adds up to around £500 to £600. Not a bad return on the launch, I would have thought. The food was excellent, Clotilde herself charming and knowledgeable, and generally I was pleased with my evening, but the whole event was marred, for me, by a kind of disdain for the audience from the French Institute that I find far too often – does nobody step into our shoes and try to guess what we will experience? Or does nobody care?
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Want to hear me read ...? (Go on, you know you do, really!)
The launch of Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel - Tuesday 10th July, 7pm, at Foyles Bookshop, The 2nd Floor Gallery Space, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EB - is your opportunity! There will be wine and book signings (I've packed my best pen!) and as well as yrs trly you can hear two other great writers, Lucy Fry and Heidi James, reading from their novellas.
You can also hear the three of us being readerly writerly on:
Thursday 12th July, 7pm, at Crockatt & Powell Booksellers, 119-120 Lower Marsh, London SE1 7AE
Tuesday 17th July, 7pm, at The Bolingbroke Bookshop, 147 Northcote Road, London SW11 6QB
Thursday 19th July, 7pm, at The Cella, The Sanctuary Cafe, 51-55 Brunswick Street, Brighton and Hove, BN3 1AU. This event also marks the launch of The Small Press Review a new and hopefully long-lived magazine exploring English language small presses, in which I have played a very tiny part by writing a couple of reviews. For the other places I cannot speak, but The Sanctuary Cafe offers some of the best vegetarian food in Brighton, so come and feast more than your ears ...
Thursday, June 14, 2007
On Tuesday I attended the reading of my story Still Life with Shirt and Sheep at Liars' League. This picture shows Sharron Byrne reading my story and impressing the hell out of me.
There's a certain pleasure to NOT having to read your own work aloud - not only do you get a fresh interpretation of your words, but you get to look at the audience and gauge reactions in a way that you never can when you're giving the reading yourself. Well, maybe you can, I can't - all I can see is the page. Also, you're not worrying about when it will be your turn to get up and try and be entertaining, so you can relax more and absorb more of the nuances of what's happening, so if you are a short story writer I really recommend trying to find something (or write something) that fits the League's needs and themes - it's a rewarding experience and a lot of fun. As an example, my rather mordant story contained two laughs, and Sharron managed to get the audience to laugh the first time, and then feel rather embarrassed because, after all, this was a story about suicide (exactly the response I'd been seeking, but I'm not sure I could have managed) and then she got them to laugh again and feel embarrassed about it! It taught me something about the pacing of writing for performance rather than writing for private reading, which will be a valuable tool for the future.
Liars' League is a London-based writers' and actors' group that holds a short story reading night at 7pm on the second Tuesday of each month at Upstairs at The Lamb, 94 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3LZ. The next reading on the theme of "CIGARETTES & ALCOHOL" will be on June 26 at 7pm and at present they are accepting submissions for the July 10 event "Sex & Death". If you're interested, submit to email@example.com by Friday June 22. All the good gen is at http://www.myspace.com/liarsleague.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
I have had an email from a lovely former client. By mutual agreement (rather bewildered on his side) we agreed, months ago, that the coaching relationship we'd established wasn't going to work. He still can't quite understand why.
The reason is simple though - he likes to suffer. Not in any kind of BDSM way, but for his art - and I won't accept that premise, nor work with creative poeple who believe they must pay in blood and heartache for their art.
I don't think writing is always fun and laughter, and my personal experience contains periods of excruciating doubt and misery, but I do believe that any activity that isn't largely positive, and isn't imposed on you by necessity or coercion, should be removed from your life. As an example, dialysis is not fun, but it keeps many people alive, and they endure it stoically because they have no choice. However, creativity should not be like that - it should be rewarding, it should be meaningful, it should enhance your life and widen your horizons. If it doesn't - stop doing it!
Now, to my client. He's been a fortunate man; he retired early, having made a heap of money, he's happily married with three grown-up children who are all healthy and contented, his work led him to many regions of the world where he explored beautiful and remote sites which he now writes spare and elegant poetry about.
After a few months working together, where he displayed much angst and many agonies, I suggested that he was choosing to suffer. For a while he resisted this idea, and then finally admitted that yes, it was a bit like touching wood - his life had been so fantastic that he was subliminally fearful that if he was also to succeed in poetry, some other area of his life would have to 'go wrong' in compensation and he couldn't risk his health, his family or his savings so he'd rather accept that the pain of writing was the price he was going to pay for being successful in literature too.
To be honest, this strikes me as complete codswallop. Like any supersition it's a limiting behaviour - it prevents somebody doing something for fear of the consequences, and while there might be some small logic to not walking under ladders (although probably not; Professor Richard Wiseman has proved that people who are the victims of superstition are actually much more 'prone' to 'bad' luck than those who aren't, in his excellent book The Luck Principle) there is absolutely no logic to suffering for your art.
So although he emails and suggests we work together again, I won't coach him again until he agrees to let go of this damaging belief, not just because I don't want to, but because a large part of coaching is about showing people their limiting beliefs and behaviours and helping them surmount them, so the elephant in the living room in our coaching relationship has to be expelled before we can move onto anything else.
If you are one of those folk who believes every word must be wrung from your veins with agony and despair, try this experiment. For one week, make yourself think that every word will arrive with the fizzy easy of a champagne bubble rising in the glass - don't allow your old thinking pattern to take over; tell yourself it's only one week and be tough with your mental processes. Write as usual, put the writing away for a month and then look at it. I am willing to bet you now that you will be surprised at how good the writing is - and how easy it was to produce.
Given the choice between the agony method and the champagne system, I choose champagne every time!
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
The next Liars' League event will take place on Tuesday 12 June at 7 pm, Upstairs at The Lamb, 94 Lamb's Conduit Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 3LZ. Anyone can come and it's only £2 entry. They'll be reading one of my stories, so I'm going along. Feel free to join me ...
Then on 20 June it's the London launch of Chocolate & Zucchini, Daily adventures in a Parisian Kitchen - a wonderful cookbook that began life as a blog www.chocolateandzucchini.com. I'm looking forward to meeting Clotilde Desouliers, writer and recipe blogger, and tasting the excellent recipes - sadly, salivating friends, the launch party is sold out.
And then on 27 June it's time for me to get on the train to Hatfield at attend the Writing Awards Ceremony at the University of Hertfordshire. I wonder if I shall come back with a cheque in my sweaty little paws ...?
And in July I will be taking part in three, maybe four readings, in London and Brighton, but I shall keep that news for a later date!