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Wine Dark Sea Blue- A Look Back at the Book Launch

So, it’s been a while since the book launch for Wine Dark, Sea Blue, and life is still getting back into it’s own little rhythm.

I have been assured by everyone it was a wonderful night. (Am I reminding anyone of Mrs Elton in Austen’s Emma? Where she flatters herself by saying how much other people enjoy her company?) To be honest, I was buzzing around like a bumblebee on crack, so I’m kind of depending on everyone else’s opinions here.

So the UEA INTO Launch started earlier in the day, with a wonderful speech from Professor Sarah Churchwell (Who you can find out more about here). It was so great to hear a writer and lecturer who didn’t know me at all really get what I was trying to achieve with this novel. To have someone who knows good writing understand my themes and narratives, and the point of my writing just made the day for me. 

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Then we went down to Dirty Dicks Pub, where festivities were about to begin! Opening the show was Northern Irish writer Louise Davidson, who has also helped me with work on The DumbSaint Project. It was then followed by a ‘thrown voice’ poetry show by Joe McBride and Joe Shefer, exploring the voiceless poet. We had a spoken word/sound art collaboration with Victoria Karlsson (using Joe McBride’s work- you can listen here). Poetry from Stairwell Books’ Rose Drew. Songs from the excellent Emma Weston, accompanied by Sam Weston. And then onto partying with The Elisa Jeffery Collective!

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So, my advice for a launch?

  • Pre-sign ALL THE BOOKS. Sure, it’s nice to write specific messages, but it’ll take time and make your life difficult.
  • Get someone else to deal with ALL the OTHER SHIT. You will not have the time to greet people, sign books, sell, check the state of the nibbles and make sure the band have leads etc. Get HELP
  • Themed cupcakes are always a winner
  • Provide entertainment but maybe not too much entertainment
  • Maybe trust that when you invite your friends, and they invite their friends, you probably will have enough people!
  • It’s your night! Take the time to enjoy it!
  • Merchandise is fun!
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Finding your Writerly Processes

Finding Your Process

In our writing classes this week, the inevitable discussion concerning how you write came up. People have been wondering about the ‘right way to write’ since people started writing. Hundreds of books have been sold telling you the ‘right way’ to do it. And I suppose even weighing in on this process means I’m telling you what to do.

I think whatever works for you is the right way. The only downside is that there’s a line between establishing a process that gets you in the right mindset, and setting up unnecessary barriers that encourage procrastination and doubt.

 

Writing because you HAVE TO

This doesn’t mean working to a deadline (although that works for some) but writing because you absolutely can’t not write at this very moment. This poem ‘So you want to be a writer’ from Charles Bukowski sums up his way of thinking about it.

I agree to an extent, about not writing for fame or congratulation or love. But at a certain point, we have to work hard at it, correct it and edit it. There should be a level of work at creating something brilliant. Charles Bukowski also had ‘Don’t Try’ written on his gravestone, so to be honest, there are moments when we disagree.

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I’ve reached the point where I trust my own brain to know when it has to write. Sometimes, I’ll be sitting and just have to do it. But often if we don’t give ourselves the time or space to daydream and pick up a pen, we’ll miss the window.

 

The Beauty of Process

There’s a reason that people associate writers will coffee. Mainly because it makes your brain work when it doesn’t want to, but also because there’s a process behind getting a cup of coffee. Whether it’s clearing your desk, making a caffetiere, walking to your local spot, or setting out your favourite cup and saucer for tea, there’s something to be said for creating a ‘ready to write’ process. If you do the same routine for weeks before writing, eventually your brain will see the pink floral tea cup and go ‘okay, better get writing then.’ You’re creating a precedent. Also, associating writing time with ‘you time’, making it enjoyable and comfortable means you’re more likely to actually do it, instead of writing blogs about how to do it for other people, like I’m doing now.

 

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Sacred Space

A lot of people are into this one. As above, if you associate a place with writing, that’s great and you’ll feel secure and comfortable. But what happens if you go on holiday? What if you do a residency or a writers’ retreat? What if you see something spectacular abroad and want to write, but don’t feel comfortable? Just as we must set up processes, we must also push ourselves to the edge of being awkward and unsure. We live in a digital age where everything is expected to be possible anywhere. The writer, with a pen and notebook always in bag, has had this advantage before anyone else.

Find your sacred space, but use is sparingly. Try writing in a coffee shop or a park, describe the people around you, absorb an atmosphere. Perhaps there’s a use for it.

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What are you writing when you’re writing?

The different processes will change if you are working on one specific project, or are still looking for inspiration or splitting your time between projects. In which case, if you’ve been working on a novel for a year, and all your notes and charts and character details are at your desk, stick with it. I completely understand after a long time setting up a process that it feels your characters live in that room and can’t explore outside until completion. But if you do find yourself lagging, changing it up is always a good option. If you’re working on smaller projects, there’s no reason you can’t carry your writer’s room in your head (or your pocket). Often working from home can be seen as ‘I’m available for you to talk to’ or as if you’ve got a day off. It’s worth escaping that environment when possible, putting yourself in a situation where you have to be up, dressed and out the house encourages productivity and energy. (I also find it’s better for my biscuit tin).

 

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Ignore Other People (Yes, me too)

If something works for you, then it’s working. Don’t fix it. If you want to work more regularly, then perhaps you can employ some of these ideas. If you enjoy waking up at midday to write until 6am, then go do it! If you enjoy setting aside an hour a day with a cup of tea to revisit your stories, then do so! Writers are naturally competitive people when put together, and as supportive as your fellow creatives can be, we try to believe that our way is the right way. I was convinced as a writing student that because I wasn’t writing all hours, listening to free jazz and wandering wide-eyed into the night looking for characters, that I was probably a fraud. Here is the truth of the matter: a writer writes. If you are writing and you are committed to it, then you are a writer.

 

More Scribble, less Drivel

 

I’m personally trying to adopt the theory that how much you talk about your work should be proportional to how much you actually do. There should only be ten percent ‘talking about it’ and ninety percent ‘doing it’. Mainly because no-one cares. I say this as someone who is extremely nosey and wants to help people with their creative endeavours. But if you’re talking about what your minor character-who-only-appears-in-chapter-forty ‘s family history and how it relates to nordic folklore…honestly, no-one cares about the book you haven’t written yet. Mainly because if you’ve got the energy to be explaining it to strangers, you’ve got the energy to be getting on with it. Keep your story yours, until it’s ready to be unveiled.  It’s like being friends with a pregnant woman. Are you excited for her? Yes, it’s amazing. But do you want to be inundated with ultrasound pictures and baby name possibilities and all this stuff for something that isn’t even here yet? People will invest in your story (or your baby) when they arrive to speak (or be cute) for themselves. You should be creating a story that people will love because it’s good, not just because it’s yours.

 

 

So, I hope that helped those of you searching for your writerly identities. You can put down that ancient ceremonial vase and jumping around on one foot in an anti-clockwise direction now. Put down the bongo drums and throw away the roll neck jumpers. You can be who you are, and do what you do, and as long as you actually write, you are a writer. Whether you write at a desk, on your bed, in a coffee shop. Whether you type or write in expensive moleskines or scrappy pieces of paper. As long as you write, it’s working. So get going.

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A Whole Heap of Rhymes that I Wrote:

The terrible tale of a novelist who wishes she was a rapper.

 I have a new addiction, and it’s Spoken Word. Watching it, not performing it.  I went to Shake the Dust a few weeks ago, and saw a whole slew of amazing young talent opening for one of my favourites, Kate Tempest, and the legendary Saul Williams.

I’ve never been to a spoken word gig like that. They’re usually small, in dingy back rooms of pubs in East London, with a bit of an electric atmosphere if they’re good, or a bit of a dead goldfish if not. But this was at The Southbank Centre, and the whole Shake the Dust community had the feel of true Slam: competition, support and general love and appreciation for the art form.

I’ve always felt a bit wary of spoken word, as there’s such a great variety of form and quality. I edge closer towards the rap-style poetry, from people like Kate Tempest, Dizraeli and Akala. I’m much more wary of the comedic type (although I’ve definitely come around to it) and I am very, very wary of the ‘white middle class girl waxing poetical about her problems’ (which is what I would be if I tried this).

After seeing a…questionable line-up at Wychwood Fest, where the amazing stand out artist of the night was Dreadlock Alien (who also teaches spoken word workshops in schools) and then catching a bunch of workshops at Larmertree Festival, I’ve realised: I really wish I could do this. But spoken word is not just about getting the words on the page, about editing and stripping down and telling a story. It’s about tone and voice and volume and passion, and stage presence. It’s a lot more like acting than I’m comfortable with. I’d much rather let my page talk for me. Although…I do talk really fast.

I write some rap-type poems, and I think I’ll keep doing so, hopefully catching a slam workshop at some point. But for now, why don’t you enjoy some of my favourite spoken word pieces:

 

 

 

P.S Spoken Word Poets that I know- please Big Up yourselves in the comment box, and post your twitter/blogs/videos, right? Good!

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Future Features Debate

So, I won a competition. For writing something. This will make the third time in my life I’ve won something. The first was for drawing a lobster cowboy, and the second for designing a book cover. So I’ve gradually got closer to writing. And I finally got there. For writing a poem. Spent four years establishing myself as a fiction writer, but hey, I’m not complaining.

So the competition was run by Cape Farewell and the Eden Project, and the task was to design a provocation for a debate, on climate change. So this is the not-quite poem I wrote:

We’re not going to tell our children about climate change? That one

day their world will go up in flames, and we’re to blame? You think

it’ll scare them, when they’ve seen CGI movies about how the world

ends? Someone tell them a hero’s not a man with a gun but a person who

recycles. They are the continuation of our race, playing out our role

in space, because this world has many more moons to go before it’s

burnt by the sun. I am a writer, and my biggest regret is that these

words won’t be worth this paper.

So yeah, Eden Sessions was crazy awesome, and the debate was great, a real chance to consider just how much climate change depends upon and is connected to everything else, technology, business, the economy. So I’m definitely going to try to live a greener and better lifestyle. Most of those changes are small, but I’m convinced life is all about the little things. It’s true in love, friendship, work, so why wouldn’t it be true in environmentalism?

By far the most exciting part of this experience was to meet other creatives and people interested in the environment. The other side of the competition was for filmmakers to create a 2 minute film that was a call to action for the audience, and you should watch it. So, watch it HERE.

This is Eden. You can see why it's named that, right?

The weirdest thing about this? I only started writing in this sort of half-rhyme-not-quite-poem style after seeing Dizraeli and The Small Gods at XOYO last month (which was wicked, and you should totally check them out, as well as The Boxettes) so I thought I might as well try out spoken word stuff. And then Dizraeli was on the panel for this climate change debate.

Sometimes, life is weird. And makes a lot of sense. So anyway, the moral of this strange story? Don’t close yourself off because you think you’ve already defined yourself. I consider myself a prose writer, a novelist, but I’d discounted poetry completely because it has certain rules that I don’t like. But spoken word? Well, it’s got rhymes, it’s got beats and I love rap. And I speak super fast. So why not try something new and see where it takes you? What have you got to lose?

Incidentally, I’ll be trying out my new spoken word material in Coffee Affair, Colindale on 7th July. For more details, check the facebook group.

Happy writing (or rhyming) everyone!