Fiction, therapeutic writing

Update: Books, Research and New Projects

Hello all,

It’s been a while since I blogged about any of my goings on – mainly as I’ve been desperately trying to finish a book. Thankfully, that happened!

I’m excited to announce that Goodbye Ruby Tuesday  will be released on the 28th April. You can pre-order it now. There will, as usual, be a blog tour, a (truly) fantastic give away and a really different and creative event to promote the book and raise money for a great cause! The excellent Sara from Huhbub will be arranging all of this for me, so if you are a lovely blogger interested in the blog tour, leave a comment or send me a twitter message (@almichael_).

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday

It’s a book about three childhood friends who are brought together by the death of a rockstar they used to know, and start up an arts centre. It’s a noughties nostalgia-filled jaunt through the creative goings on in north London, with three friends fighting to create something special in memory of their friend.

Research:

My research into the application of creative therapeutic writing in eating disorder recovery starts next week. I’ll be running workshops in London, working with some lovely people in order to research how useful creative writing can be. I really do believe in the power of writing to heal and help arrange thoughts. I’m excited to see what this research discovers.

Future Writing:

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday is the first in a series of three books coming out this year. Each main character gets a book, so I hope you love the girls as much as I do, because there’s a lot more coming from them this year. The second book, Nice Day for a White Wedding will be our over the summer. The third, you’ll have to wait and see, but as I’m sure it’s clear, I’m picking some of my favourite songs as titles this time!

Other:

I’m excited to say I’ll be back at the wonderful Larmertree Festival this year, providing some creative writing for wellness workshops. They’ll be focused on nature and the body, really working to be inspired by the natural environment of the festival. If you’re there this year, stop by and try it out!

 

 

 

 

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Authentic Storytelling: Writing the message or telling the story?

 

Writers have quite a responsibility when it comes to the stories they spin. We are constantly looking for the message, the bigger picture. If the good little girl gets rewarded in love, we feel like we must be good to get what we want. If bad characters are punished, we feel we must believe in that punishment.

 

But what happens when fear of the message takes over your storyline? What if you have an ethnic minority character who happens to be the bad guy? Are you a racist? What if your gay character doesn’t end up with a partner but your straight character does- are you prioritising who gets happiness in society?

 

Every web we create sends out vibrations, saying that our belief system sits within these words. And that’s not always true. Sometimes I don’t give another character a love interest because I don’t have time, or I don’t want to end it in a triple wedding like a Jane Austen tie up. Sometimes, the bad guy is just the bad guy, because you want to make it more interesting, and give them a backstory. Not because you’ve decided all people of a certain race are evil.

 

But people will call you on this. They will expect absolute answers for every decision you’ve made, when really, some of them are just based on the fact that they felt right. A friend of mine is currently trying to write a villain who happens to be gay. Now, is there a way to do this without demonising gay people? Yes, of course. But is there always going to be one person with a foghorn standing there and judging her for the choice? Probably.

 

People are complex creatures with endless facets, constantly changing and evolving. To represent one of those on the page clearly is pretty much impossible. But in writing (as in life) reverting to labels never helps anyone. My friend’s character is not evil because he is gay, or gay because he is evil. He is an evil character that serves a purpose of evilness in the story, and also happens to be gay because…well, because he is. Just like how people are, because they are.

 

And what if you don’t have a message? Or worse, if the message doesn’t fit the genre you write in? When coming up with concepts for my new novel, I’d just watched two awful movies ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ and ‘Made of Honor’, both of which deal with the bullshit ‘We’ve been friends for years but now you’re getting married and I’ve realised I love you’ storyline. So I wanted to write a story where a girl and a guy live together, and are friends, and other people don’t get it, and keep waiting for them to get together. But they don’t. Because they’re friends. The message was there. Men and women can be friends, stop demonising it and making it all about romance because we all know that’s not true.

 

Except…well, no-one wants to read a story like that. Firstly, because it’s a story where nothing changes, and people want change, but also because people WANT the main characters to get together. They don’t care about the moral, or the message or what it means for society if we think our friends secretly want to shag us. If there’s a nice guy and a nice girl, and they get along, movies and novels tell us that they’re a possibility. And no amount of talking about the message will make that a satisfying read for people who have become used to the pattern of existing friendships in romcoms. I’m pretty sure we don’t do this in real life. We don’t look at a best friend of the opposite sex we’ve never been attracted to before, and suddenly decide they’ll do. And if we do, it’s more interesting to write about what takes that person to that point, where they are emotionally and how that affects the friendship.

 

My point being, we often feel like a story can’t exist without a message, but a message without a working story just feels like being hit over the head with someone else’s morality. Not fun. My chick lit books tend to work on the same theme, which is taking a chance and trusting someone. Do I do this deliberately? No, but I like writing emotionally distant and strongly sarcastic female characters, so the message comes naturally from how I enjoy writing. The message tends to reveal itself along the way, and if you’re already absolutely sure about what you’re trying to tell the world, well, just try and be careful you’re not hitting people over the head with it. Being able to enjoy a story, even if you don’t agree with it’s view of the world, is one sign of great writing.

 

Don’t forget my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop on 26th April, where we explore things like where our personal inbuilt narratives meet our characters on the page. If you want to explore how and why you write a little better, it’s the perfect opportunity! Plus, if you Quote: WORDPRESSCODE in an email to andrealmichael@aol.com when ordering, you get 10% off the ticket price! Bargain!

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Writing for Wellbeing: Using Metaphor

 

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Images are powerful things. The best writing is imagistic, powerful, visual. Since starting this course in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, it seems like I can’t express how I feel without turning to metaphor. There are some emotions that would take pages to untangle and analyse, but when associated with an image, can suddenly make our feelings clear. 

Like standing on an unsteady ladder. We feel worried, we feel nervous, we know we’re in danger, we’re continuing anyway. But that feeling? That specific feeling when you’re on the edge and you can feel yourself falling? Well, we may not have all been on a rickety ladder, but we can all understand what that means.

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Images are the best way to succinctly and clearly explain how you feel. There is a place for writing reams and reams in a journal or diary, exploring feelings and specific instances, but the use of metaphor explains just how powerful poetry can be when we’re trying to emotionally connect something.

 

Metaphors can’t really be forced. To push them is to somehow make them less encompassing. But next time you’re trying to explain a difficult emotion, see if you automatically use a metaphor. We use them so often now, without even thinking. And next time you do use one, write it down, explore it, continue it. 

 

Just as in English class our job was to identify those images and tear them apart, I am asking you to build them up. Embellish them. If you feel like a caged bird, what is the cage made of? What colour is your plume? What song do you sing? Where does the bird wish to go? Explore your image, because metaphors are a path to deeper understanding. We use them because it’s an easy connection- something in us identifies with that image, but by exploring it, we can reveal so much more!

 

 

A Reminder that my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet is now up and running. You can find details HERE and HERE. It’s a full day of writing tasks and discussion, guaranteed to leave you feeling thoughtful and uplifted, and hopefully with a collection of writing work you can feel proud of! Please do get in touch if you’re interested by emailing andrealmichael@aol.com

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On Being Authentic (and how writing can help)

It’s hard to be ourselves, these days.

 

We are constantly seeking a place to validate our thoughts and feelings on paper, or on screen. To see those words, and have them responded to respectfully and emotively is often all we crave. To receive a few kind words of encouragement or understanding. But the power of social media today means that we misplace that intention into a great fizzing ball of everyone’s insecurities, hang-ups, stresses and day to day life.

We do not heal ourselves by writing about our dead cat on facebook. We open ourselves up to derision, insincerity and judgement. But to write in a private moment about how we feel about such things, about our day to day life, our losses- it is our moment of understanding in expressing these things that matters, not the reception.

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It is so expected that your realisations and thoughts should be public, to be related to or ignored, that people cannot even define what is important to them. The loss of self, of authentic voice is more prevalent on social media sites than anywhere else. I am sad today. Well, if I tell facebook, people will tell me to cheer up, if I use twitter I am limited to characters, perhaps I’ll text a friend and they will comfort me. Nowhere in this scenario is sitting down and using words to consider why you’re unhappy today. You are too busy trying to figure out if your feelings matter enough to be considered your ‘status’ or if they are appropriate for the medium you’re using. That is the power of private writing- or even of therapeutic writing that is shared- there is no inappropriate, as long as you are authentic.

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An Exercise in Connecting to the Authentic:

Take a moment to ‘check-in’ with yourself. How are you today? Do you feel good? What one word would sum up how you are right now? Say it aloud. Own it. It is surprising? Is there anything more to be said? Have you picked a word that gives little away, like ‘fine’ or ‘okay’? You don’t have to limit yourself, or be polite, you are just interacting with yourself. If you feel content, if you feel anxious, if you feel awful, all of these feelings are okay.

 

Take out a watch, or a timer on your phone. You’re going to do five minutes of ‘free-writing’. This means you will write whatever comes to mind, you won’t form it, you don’t have to worry about spelling or punctuation or sentences. Go with what feels right. Try and almost bypass the brain in this exercise, imagine your pen is connected to a delicate thread that goes up through your arm and into your centre. The pen connects with the subconscious, just let it do what it wants. Start with the word you used to define your state of being. Run with it. Write as much as you can, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t look back, just keep writing.

Okay, so you’ve done that. Look back. Was that check-in how you really felt? Did anything become apparent? How do you feel? Writing this way, writing for ourselves, not for any validation, recognition, or to fill a space, is a powerful thing. There might not be any writerly ‘merit’ in the thing you have written, but if it feels honest and true to you, then that is merit enough. You may also find a phrase or word that you really like in there, and can use that to jump onto a more structured piece of work.

 

Authenticity is important- we are surrounded by the noise and pressure and expectations of others, things to do, places to go, how we should be, that sometimes we just need to centre ourselves again.

That is just one small and simple exercise in how writing can be therapeutic. Why don’t you try it out and let me know what you created? If you’re interested in the therapeutic possibilities of writing, remember I’m doing a Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet on Saturday 26th April. Email andrealmichael@aol.com for more details!

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Writing for Wellbeing in Barnet!

I’m very excited to share with you that my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop will be on Saturday 26th April, 10am-4pm at The Amber Lounge, Underhill Stadium, (EN5 2DN).

It costs £65 and includes a gorgeous lunch, as well as all the tea and coffee you can drink!

We’ll be using techniques derived from narrative therapy and autobiographical fiction to trace who we are, what stories we have to tell, and to have a greater appreciation for our own tales! Plus, increasing confidence and self-esteem by truly valuing the stories we’ve created!

For more info/to book, email andrealmichael@aol.com, or call Andi on 07708225688

 

 

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Writing For Wellbeing: Fragments of ‘Us’

Writing For Wellbeing: Fragments of ‘Us’

 

 

As many of you know, I’m currently setting up workshops in Writing for Wellbeing, as I continue training in my MsC in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. 

The Arts have always been accepted as having healing properties, it’s why art therapists and music therapists are so widely accepted in hospitals, hospices, rehab facilities, and why the arts are at the forefront of the health and wellbeing industry. But where have the writers been in this? 

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Writers are very often complicated people with complex lives and emotions, and putting things down on the page, whether as autobiography or as fiction, is a release from that. How about journals? As children and teenagers, diaries were encouraged as a way to share the thoughts that we weren’t comfortable or capable of expressing to the adults in our lives. Why is that any different now? Sometimes, we just need a space to address and accept the parts of our lives we’re not sure about, without judgement or comment. Writing is the simplest way to open a direct line with your subconscious, open up your feelings, and validate how you feel.

 

We all have stories of value, we all have moments that make us who we are. My style of workshops (and my style of writing) is influenced by ideas of fragmentation. We all exist in a series of moments, a childhood memory, a dream, a description of your mother’s kitchen, – our lives and our selves are made up of snapshots. They’re not necessarily in order, and you might not be the same person you were in those moments- but they’re still a part of you. 

Connecting to your stories through a fragmented writing process can bring a sense of calm, confidence, and a greater sense of self. It also allows us to be more empathetic with our ‘selves’. To look back and say ‘yes, I see why he/she made that decision, fair enough.’ To get some distance, some perspective, and look inwards with kindness.

Our lives are brilliant interweaving tapestries, complex and sustained narratives that are still growing and changing every day. Writing for Wellbeing, and working with fragments, can work a lot like therapy, helping us to break down the chunks, but to also take a step back and look at the bigger picture of who we are. 

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Sounds like a lot? It’s also fun! It’s brilliant to unearth those beautiful memories you thought you’d lost, to make up stories that make you laugh, to adequately and comfortably handle those stories that you never think about. 

If you’re interested in what Writing for Wellbeing can do for you, leave me a message here, and stay tuned for the workshop in April 2014, based in Barnet.