Archive for the ‘blue’ Category

Enough Is As Good As A Feast

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

I’ve decided to pack it in.

I’ve been blogging for four years (ish) now. I started because I wanted to have a place to link to the short stories I was beginning to publish in various web magazines and never expected that I would find such a welcoming community. Through this special kind of writing I’ve made friends, found work, been able to talk to my readers, hear what you think about my writing (Cheesy Peeps!) and I’ve been able, I hope, to let lots of people know about my writing who might not have heard about it otherwise.

While I’m NOT FROM MANCHESTER, the Manchester blogging and literary community in particular welcomed me with open arms, and long before A Kind of Intimacy was published I was attending reading nights, vomiting with fear, and testing out some of my earliest attempts at flash fiction and unreliable memoir. That wouldn’t have happened without blogging friends – there’s not a chance in cheese I would have plucked up the courage otherwise. There are too many of you to name, and this isn’t an Oscars speech – but you know who you are. Ta. (Not you.)

Despite my incurably sloppy spelling, tendency to post when tipsy even when I promised myself I wouldn’t, my ignorance of arcane blog etiquette and the occasional (pfft!) indiscretion, I have enjoyed blogging, and enjoyed reading other people’s blogs. A friend, Max, argued that blogging is an exhausted form and has been replaced by newer, briefer, more immediate forms of on-line communication. That newspapers have gobbled us all up. Maybe that’s not true for all of us bloggers, but I think it is for me and for Every Day I Lie A Little. The blog form might not be exhausted, but I am.

It’s always been a struggle for me, like all bloggers, to draw a line around my private and family life. I know you know my children aren’t really called Small Fry and McTiny, and my house isn’t really called Ashworth Towers. For those of you who are close to me in my real life as well as my online life, thank you, thank you so much, for indulging me and collaborating with me on keeping them apart from this world for all this time. For the persistent (two years, you weirdo) person who has been reaching this blog by trying to find out the real names of my children: I am not packing this in because of you.

I want to be more private, and the more private I am, the more insipid my blog posts become. I toyed with the idea of starting again  – anonymously, and saying what I really wanted to say. To write like I used to – without worrying about making a Career Limiting Move. But then I realised, I am saying what I really want to say. In the novel I am writing now, and in the writing projects I’m planning for the future, I am still communicating. My best writing is elsewhere. My blog writing was becoming something much less than second best. So in novels and stories and whatever else I get up to – that’s where you’ll find me from now on. Lying my head off, and letting more of the truth slip through than I’d probably like.

I’m also tired of the energy it can take to be a part of this community. To join in with the exuberant pissing contest that Manufacturing An Online Buzz about your work can be. No-one asked me to do it, and I’m sure many of you would rather that I didn’t. But I did, and now I’m finding that the energy needed to turn myself outwards, to sell and advertise and display, isn’t working well when I need to be quiet, and think, and type and delete and type some more.

And lets be honest, I can’t be the only one to notice that I’m fast running out of ways to make the writing life sound interesting. I get up, do a school run, type, do another school run, cook, eat, drink, type, read, sleep. Every Day. Sometimes it’s really hard, but you’re not allowed to say that because it’s not a proper job, and there’s lots of other people who could do it better than you, or would give their arms and legs to be in your shoes. And sometimes it’s brilliant. And you can’t say that either, because it sounds like bragging. So what is left? I type a lot. There it is.

Let’s not be melodramatic about this though.

I’m converting this part of my website to ‘News’ and will be updating, now and again, with details about events, readings, and gigs. If you want to carry on getting that sort of information, you can subscribe here. I’m hoping to move into book reviewing, and other kinds of online and print journalism. I’ll be reading and commenting on blogs, and writing posts for the Writing Smithy. If you’re wondering how you’ll get by without my ill-punctuated domestic ranting, refusal to be drawn on matters of national import, and puns about sandwiches, I’ll be on twitter and would love to carry on the conversation there.

But for Every Day I Lie A Little, it’s curtains.



Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Sadly for you I am appearing on the telly this Saturday night – thus ruining yet another weekend for you all with my relentless attention-seeking.

John Mullan along with a panel of judges read 57 novels published in the last two years, and between them they chose what they thought were the twelve most interesting. A Kind of Intimacy was one of the twelve.

You’ll disagree and come up with your own best and worst lists, of course – and I think that’s a good thing. I’m interested in what conclusions the panel of judges drew about where contemporary British literature is headed. Down the pan, according to some, I am sure.

Just in case you can bring yourself, the Guardian ran a piece about the Culture Show Special here. The show itself will be running on BBC 2 at 9pm this Saturday night.

New Blog Rules

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

From now on I am only going to blog about the nightmares I am having about the publication of Cold Light. I’m having really, really detailed nightmares right now.

A special hard-backed novel-length bad review of Cold Light free to every reader of *insert your favourite broadsheet here*

For the tabloid reader, a full colour supplement, eight page spread of bad reviews..

Oh God. What have I done?

I think I might write the reviews myself, and pitch them to all the papers and blogs and amazon reviewers and good reads raters and book clubs and crazy people who like to send me facebook messages / email me in the middle of the night. It will save them time and at least then there’ll be no nasty surprises for me.

I am sure if I did this I would stop having the nightmares. Whenever I stand on a bridge I worry about falling off it. That feeling makes me want to jump down, just to get the anxiety over and done with.

Jackets for the hardback arrived yesterday for me to look at. They are perfect and brilliant. I got a hardbacked book of around the same size (it was The Tiger by John Valiant) and tried them on. Felt a bit daft. Took the dust jacket off and got John’s book dressed again. Sorry John.

Picture stolen from here.


Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

When I am thinking about Being A Writer, often while reading Paris Review interviews, or blogs, or biogs, or whatever, I have a view of it as such a leisurely thing. Coffee and loads of fags. Breaks, and night time working which means lie-ins. Long chats with others who are Being Writers all about Writerly Things. In this place the days pass slowly and the afternoons are long and sunny but not too hot. We’re all wearing quite nice trousers and having good hair days. It is cushty, and not really a Proper Job.

It is not like this: alarm at 6.20 so there are 40 minutes of editing something you are sick of the sight of before school run. A second shift and a third shift. And when that’s over, lying in bed worrying that it isn’t enough, someone’s going to read it and spot something and say something bad, so it is out of bed, and creeping to the computer in case you wake someone up who will want feeding.

I get sad about it. Being A Writer involves feeling bad too much of the time. Insufficient, in-confident, embarrassed. No-one asked me to do it, so I should stop, and shut up. I have these urges to delete now and again, and that always happens when the going is tough. It is kind of shameful to write about it like this here, but I am committed to writing about what writing is like on this blog, and what it is like sometimes is Toil, Drudge and No Fun at All.

I want cocktails and holidays! I want to go to Blackpool and play Bingo! I want to get pissed. Quite a lot, actually. I want to do something other than shuffle words about, read them, and teach other people how to shuffle them, and then come home to smug emails wanting to discuss how word-shuffling can’t really be taught anyway, so that’s six hours out of my week wasted then, is it? Oh and by the way there’s a typo on page 239 of your first novel and I’m looking forward to seeing your next, and here’s a book you Should Have Read and I’m offended you haven’t linked to me and Please Help Me With My (insert literary project of your choice here).

Bingo! Cocktails! Steak! Gin!

So, alarm at 6.40 as well as working from 8pm until midnight. And feeding. I am a vending machine for milk and novels.

(woe! sayeth The Author)

I like Cat’s Eye because Elaine Risley, the artist narrator, has her children young and has to stay up all night to paint, and the sleep deprivation makes her feel sick and her husband tells her to not to stay up late, and she says, ‘well, when else would I do it?’ I can’t tell you (okay, I can) how much it fucks me off when people call writing about domesticity small and dull and female and uninteresting. I wonder how many artists and writers and inventors and computer programmers and doctors have been lost to laundry and hoovering.

Luckily, my Mr is much better than even the most fictional Mr, and brings tea, and leaves the car for me even when it is his turn to have it.

Girls. Fun.

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

A tiny bit of writing done today – notes on the second and third chapters of book three. The first chapter is provisionally called ‘fairy cake’. The third will be called ‘bovril’s walk’. Not sure about the second one yet.

I doubt the chapters will end up with titles, but it helps me keep track. I’m really looking forward to writing ‘screwdriver’ and ‘bites down on a towel’.

The note-taking was done in my car on the back of a class 2 NI contributions bill while McTiny was sleeping. We were outside West View Leisure centre waiting for a class to start. There was a programme about The Kennel Club on Radio 4, which inspired me.

The class itself was something to write home about. I could store it in the place where I repress the rest of my trauma, but that drawer is getting full. So for your reading pleasure: the class. A kind of yoga / circuits / physio / new circle of hell type of class where you can take your progeny and be taught moves to ease your outraged abdomen back together.

I talked myself into going. Like this:

Come on Jenn, you need to get out of the house. It’ll make you feel better. Don’t be a tit, you might make friends.

I should have listened to the other Jenn, the Jenn who was quite happy being a tit and urging me to stay at home in my brown cardigan and scribble on the back of envelopes, leaning on McTiny’s back while he slept on my knee.

Picture me, if you will, running about in a circle with my arms outstretched, making little circles with my hands. Sleep deprived, shy and angry. Not owning the correct trainers either, I discovered. They played music.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (that’s all they really want).

What girls want:

not to have fun of any kind, better trainers – without having to enter a shoe-shop,
two hours more sleep, Bombay Sapphire, cake, not to walk in the sun.

I was on the brink of pretending I was nipping away for a wee and not coming back, (when you gonna live your life right?) but they had a Health Visitor on the door with a sheaf of leaflets about breast feeding and drinking and I didn’t dare.

Cupboards. Skeletons. Etc.

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I read this post by Diane Becker a few days ago, and it struck a chord with me – having recently had a fairly horrible stay in hospital myself. (There aren’t any nice stays in hospital, are there? Or should I save up for BUPA?) I don’t go into things like that in my blog, or too much in real life either, and I never thought about how that linked to my writing method until I started reflecting on Diane’s post and the way she chooses not to talk about things and how she feels that affects her writing.

I hope my writing isn’t formulaic, but there’s a knack to working out a good first person narrative – deciding what the person thinks they are telling you, and what they are actually telling you. What they don’t want to say, and what seeps in around the edges anyway. What they don’t want to talk about might be near death experiences or trauma. It is just as likely (in my stories, anyway) to be secret humiliations, sins of omission and social failures. How does it seep around the edges? How do you show what they don’t want to tell?

There are a couple of things in my life that I’ve very deliberately decided I will neither think nor talk nor write about. It is like editing a novel (everything feels like editing a novel right now, though) and cutting out the bits you don’t like and rearranging the rest to cover the gaps. It’s very important and makes the rest of the whole wobbling edifice possible. Not amnesia. Editing.

Perhaps you will find some of this deleted material seeping in around the edges – in jokes, dreams and stories I make up – but not, I think, if I am vigilant. Not if I am really good at what I try to do. But if I can spot the way the truth seeps in around the edges and replicate it for my pretend narrators, I should be able to get a handle on it in real life, shouldn’t I?

It is lazy thinking (it is, isn’t it?) to go through a writer’s output and circle the recurring images and themes and label them as autobiographical – as the juicy trauma they’ve edited out of their real lives and allowed to seep into their fictional ones. I don’t doubt lots of writers make conscious and unconscious use of their secrets and unspoken events like this. But it isn’t quite what I am talking about.

I reject the Romantic and romantic notion that a writer is more hurt, more embarrassed and more traumatised than the rest of the population and good writing comes from their working-out of that trauma. Life is often humiliating and frightening and crap for everyone and people who shuffle words are not special or more sinned-against. Trauma is boring and ordinary.

But trauma, or the things we don’t want to talk about, is important to writing. It doesn’t matter what the content of the trauma is. One person’s car-smash is another person’s disastrously violent c-section (plucking an example off the top of my head…) is another person’s wrong-shoes-for-the-party is another persons saw-my-parents-shagging. We have all got the things that we edit out of the stories we tell about ourselves.

It is important to writing because understanding the way this works is understanding one of the basic things about writing and noticing the way it is done in real life is practice for being a writer. In other words, writers are not more hurt, they are just more cold blooded about noticing the way they deal with the hurt – the editing is never complete because writers look at how they self-edit and replicate that when they’re dealing with sentences and paragraphs.

Having a sad secret isn’t unique. Picking the scab of your sad secret in front of the mirror (on a blog, in a poem, during a novel) is possibly a little bit more unusual / narcissistic / healthy / unhealthy / interesting / pathetic / useful because nothing makes you notice the difference between what we tell and what we show more. I’ve been invited back to the hospital for a chat with a professional that will, apparently, prevent me getting post-traumatic-stress-disorder. No thanks, says I, I’d rather suppress it, watch myself doing it and then blog about the process. Could come in handy for the next book (this is why writers don’t have friends – I’ve never heard of anything so vain in my life).

Body language experts call the signs – the ticks and twitches – the body makes when we are lying / omitting parts of the truth ‘tells’. They aren’t tells. They are (some of the) shows. Creative writers are instructed to avoid one and encourage the other – better teachers advise writers to be aware of which one they are doing, and control it. My narrators are all ‘tell’ and the interesting bit – the ‘show’ is the bit that is between the lines, the silent bit, the unwritten part.

How else did you think I learned how to do it?

The blog post was a response to Too Much Information which you can find, along with many other illuminating ruminations, at Not Designed to Juggle. The photograph, which is not as good as Diane’s, was taken by the Mr – who was slightly baffled by my weak laughter and insistence he take this snap for me because I wanted it for my blog.

Less Things

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

No Ikea last night, but a back-yard full of sea-gulls. The kind with the red tip to their beak. We’ve only a little back yard and in my dream it was so crowded with the white birds that you couldn’t see through them to the flags – it reminded me, either during the dream or afterwards, of pictures of ‘barn’ hens – where the barn is so thick with feathered bodies you can’t see the floor. And they were all facing the same way, heads and beaks pointed in the same direction.

I haven’t been thinking about birds. Have been sleeping with head-phones on. I can’t have silence to sleep and can’t have music. The world service used to do it, but news about oil slicks and wars was making me worse. So a BBC adaptation of Lord of the Rings to listen to during and in-between wakings up. There are no seagulls in that, are there?

A growing fear of sea-gulls, although generally I think birds are fairly scary, and then two trips to the charity shop today.

General worries and fears include: the recycling, cat hair balls under the kitchen table, friends moving away, too many words, too few words, throwing things out, keeping them, sleeping, not sleeping, relative sizes of jeans in different shops, identity theft, ebay, the prospect of buying shoes to go with a new dress that hasn’t arrived yet, not being able to drive, roundabouts, corkscrews, wine.

I Make Stuff Up

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

I’ve had a week of furious typing, post-its, scribbling in pencil and… filling in forms. With the arrival of a new person into the world comes a whole host of forms needed to prove the poor blighter’s existence to the government / NHS / my landlord. He doesn’t even have a real pair of shoes yet (we have been remiss in this, but I’ve a novel to finish and in this house if you don’t walk, you don’t get shoes) and yet we’ve had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get him a birth certificate, registered with a doctor, alert the fine people at HMRC to his existence and justify my own continuing existence to a health visitor. All activities that are accompanied by forms, questions and questionnaires.

I’m a grumpy get at the best of times (you hadn’t noticed?) but PLEASE, when I’m working to a deadline, on much less sleep than I’d like and have a bit of a 1000 piece Disney jigsaw puzzle stuck to my hair with vomited breast-milk (he’s been easy on the crap, this past few days) DON’T look at me like I’m a deluded, sorry fantasist in need of intervention when you ask me what I do for a living for your bloody FORM and I answer honestly. Think of how many books there are in the world. Someone’s got to write them, haven’t they?

My favourite quiz of the week is the one they use to check if you’re depressed or not. Tick boxes. Do you feel like harming yourself and / or others a) never b) sometimes c) on a near constant basis. I answer C, and clarify that this isn’t a post-partum thing, but is how I always feel, especially when asked invasive questions by someone I’ve never met before who invited themselves around to my house and sneered at me when I told them what I do for a living, (really? That’s nice. And what did you do for a job?.) then followed it up by asking me what my husband thought of it… (very little, I should imagine).

I’m not going to tell these people I’m a writer any more. I’m going to say I’m a detective, a spy, a magician. I’m a consultant escapologist. I’m a private eye. I’m Columbo’s wife. I’m Mrs Hudson, Sherlock Holmes’ landlady. I’m Harriet the Spy. I’m a cross between Nancy Drew and Nana Mouskouri. I make stuff up. I type very fast in two hour bursts, sometimes at night, sometimes holding the baby, sometimes while eating breakfast.

Here’s an ambivalent review of A Kind of Intimacy from L-Magazine, ‘New York City’s Local Event and Arts And Culture Guide.’

#18 / 100

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Alison Moore’s story chapbook, when the door closed, it was dark published by Nightjar Press.

I bought this, along with the rest of the Nightjar titles when Nicholas Royle came to Preston to read at the last Word Soup – all the titles had been recommended to me by Sarah Hymas, who knows the sort of thing I like.

This story was word-perfect, creepily heavy, not a word extra and had an atmosphere that started making me feel sick from the first page. It’s a story that needs rereading, which I did, the second I finished it the first time, and again today. I have the rest of the titles from Nightjar, and I’ll be taking my time over them. Need to space them out, as I’ve been seething with jealousy over the way Alison Moore puts her words together all day. I like feeling like that too. I’ve had a blue week and this dark, nasty story has jolted me out of it.

I don’t know why uneasy, elliptical stories like this make me happy, but they do.

This one did.

This isn’t a review, but a recommendation. Still, you should know that I don’t know Alison, and I did not get this book for free either. Does that make my opinion count more? I have no idea.

On Compromise and Stilton Jars

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

This is a kind of follow-on to my last post, which was about working within boundaries – both as a creative writer, and as someone who works on creative writing projects and teaches creative writing to others.

It was about the way I feel that boundaries can either shape or stifle the work, and me feeling a bit uncomfortable about setting other people boundaries – even though I know I can be very creative inside some rules myself and I know that sometimes writers appreciate a brief, a nudge in the right direction, a set of guidelines to bump up against.

I still haven’t found an answer to that one – still haven’t decided how I feel, other than ‘it depends’.

This post is about compromise, which is related, I think. Doing creative work might seem to be full of kicks and freedom and a world away from the 9-5 drudge you do for a boss, but in actual fact it is often a series of compromises between what I would like to do, and what the funders require – what I think is best or most effective, and what ticks the right boxes. Sometimes this means working really creatively on developing and delivering a project that ticks everyone’s boxes (that idea of boundaries being inspiring again) and sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes is means he who pays the piper calls the tune.

I’ve not been doing freelance work (writer-for-hire) long enough to be able to tell how these compromises are going to feel to me before I start, although I’m learning that the amount of compromise involved is important to me. Because when the compromise is too much, I start to feel bad. I feel dishonest, or like I don’t want to be associated with the product because it’s too far away from the way I think it should have been done. I’ve been mainly lucky so far with this.

And what about my own writing? I can write what I like, and most of the time I do. When I was writing A Kind of Intimacy I hoped but did not expect to get it published, and that gave me a lot of freedom to write about things I didn’t think anyone else but me would be interested in. It just turned out that they were. It was lucky. I liked it. I hope it will happen again like that.

I can write what I want, please no-one but myself, and refuse to compromise. I can be playful, and I am allowed to write badly or oddly and I am allowed to write things that won’t ever be significant to anyone other than me. I’ve noticed the more I need to budge in my professional life, the more independent and wilful I need to be in my own writing.

But. But. But.

But if I want other people to read my writing, or I want it to be published, or I want to make a living doing it, or I want to win something, or if I want it reviewed, or if I want to go to festivals, or I want to get more work teaching (or any combination of these, some of which I do and don’t want in varying degrees of importance that change from day to day) there are also compromises to be made.

So far, these compromises have been small and have been the creative kind of boundaries that have felt inspiring. So I might write a story to a theme I hadn’t thought about before, or stick to a word count when if left to my own devices I’d give the story a bit longer, or take into account the submission deadlines of a competition when planning my work for the week… these things are basic. They are things that influence my creative decisions and I am fine with that.

But what about bigger compromises? How do I balance that? How do I balance being able to earn enough to pay the rent against being able to write something that feels okay to me, and feels like what I wanted to say? I could always get a real job, and write what I like without compromise. That is always open to me.

This is connected, again, to my half-hearted planning for novel number three. Annie says she’s a minority interest, like ‘folding paper birds or collecting stilton jars’.

I think my writing is a bit like that.

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