Thursday, 20 November 2014

Why I like The Paris Review

Image from The Paris Review
The Paris Review is a literary magazine founded in Paris by Harold L. Humes, Peter Mathiessen and George Plimpton in 1953. The magazine began with a simple editorial mission - to emphasise creative work - fiction and poetry - so long as they are good.

What I particularly like about The Paris Review is their Reviews Writers at Work interview series which offers authors a rare opportunity to discuss their life and art at length; 'they have responded with some of the most revealing self-portraits in literature.' Among the interviewees are William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, Joan Didion, Seamus Huxley, Ian McEwan, and one of my favourites Toni Morrison.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

How Writers Write Fiction: Constraints and Styles

Image from: jessicaschaubbooks.com
Even though I prefer writing  non-fiction, I still read fiction as a way of learning more about how writers use fictional techniques.  Be it plot, character, scene, point of view, they are all relevant techniques when storytelling.

One of the best free (yes free) online writing courses I've come across this year is How Writers Write Fiction, from the University of Iowa's International Writing Programme, which comprises of 8 accompanying videos that each feature two established writers of fiction, plus written exercises.  

I found the class session 7 - Constraints and Styles, which featured Alan Cherchesor: Finding a Personal Style and Kevin Brockmeier: The Value of Constraints (particularly Kevin's talk), fascinating and inspiring. 

I have never thought of the value of constraints when writing but I will be trying out some of the exercises, e.g. write a story in which every sentence has a numeral or write a story in which every sentence has the same number of words. One of the things that constraints can achieve is a different focus on the story at the level of the sentence - a spur to creativity - which ultimately can become the most satisfying pieces of narrative or linguistic work. Surprising the imagination into doing unexpected things can, bit-by-bit, transform the narrative into something it never would have become.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction

Image from: thecommonty.blogspot.com
The short story is back! This is good news for writers no matter where you are in your career.  After three or four decades of evaporating markets, the short story has found a new home in the ebook.

Ebooks of short story anthologies are springing up all over.  They don't pay, but if you can get a story into an anthology with some well-known authors in your genre, you'll be paid in publicity!  Something you can't put a number on.

Consider too that short fiction is much easier to adapt for the screen than novels. The following films started as short stories:

  • The Birds
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Double Indemnity

Then you have short story contests.  Here's one:

The Telegraph Short Story Book Club

Here's a short and sweet story:

The Green Suitcase by Jo Senior: Winner of the Telegraph Short Story Club Competition

Links:

5 Secret Tips to Writing Short Stories

10 Secrets to Write Better Stories

Advice and Inspiration for Writing Short Stories




Thursday, 30 October 2014

Should You Self Publish?

Image from: www.grammarfactory.com
When I embarked upon creating three anthologies of poetry and personal essays, I started off with a vision of the first book and had no real sense of how I would get it published. Nevertheless, that didn't stop me from starting the ball rolling, which included advertising in the Voice Newspaper seeking submissions. Meanwhile, I wrote to two mainstream publishers - the Women's Press (no longer in existence) and Virago. After many months, I received their rejection letters, so I decided to take the self-publishing route, using the brand name of Shangwe*.  

We're in an age where self-published books have a better chance than ever of making it big. Print-On-Demand services and free eBook distribution are abound. One in three ebooks sold on Amazon are self-published.  You don't even need to be in a bookstore to be successful.  People don't care how a book is published, as long as the book is good.  If it's going to explode, it'll explode, whether or not it's traditionally published.


Image from: www.onbile.com

The advantages of self publishing, first and foremost, are that control is retained over the book at all stages of the production process - what text style to use, the cover design, the cover price, the book's size, the number of copies printed...this includes having the final say on everything.

In addition, by publishing your own work, you are able to retain the copyright to that work, which is important if you want to try and sell the book on to a commercial publisher at a future date, for instance.  Self publishing is also a more appropriate means of publication for the genre of poetry, memoir and autobiography.


Image from: www.manystuff.org
I learned so much working on the first anthology - Brown Eyes - the most significant development was becoming an editor.  With any new project, you will encounter challenges. The most vivid was the delay by my publishers, who were extremely late delivering the books; I received them at 12.30pm on the day of my book launch!!  I learned that publishers are like builders in that they can only really guesstimate when you will actually receive your books. Needless to say, I made sure not to organise any more book launches until I had received the books well in advance!

In terms of cost, two of my anthologies - Brown Eyes and Hair Power Skin Revolution - were funded by the Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts Award. (I financed the second one - Sexual Attraction Revealed). I would strongly recommend that if your book idea is poetry and/or fiction, that you pursue a grant as then you are not only supported financially, but working on your application will force you to consider all the requirements of producing your book before you start.  If you have a track record in the field of creative writing, then this will go some way to your application being taken seriously.  

Links:

Author Nick Spalding's top 10 self-publishing tips

How to Successfully Self-Publish a Kindle eBook

Is your book a self-published masterpiece?

Should You Self Publish? 15 Questions

* Shangwe is an Eastern African female name; it means 'celebration.'

Thursday, 23 October 2014

In Conversation with Maggie Harris on the subject of Home & Belonging


Maggie Harris won the Guyana prize for Literature for her first collection, Limbolands in 2000.  Her collection Berbice to Broadstairs reaffirmed her position as a Caribbean woman poet located firmly on British soil and she was Regional Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2014.  In her memoir Kiskadee Girl, Maggie recalls the Guyana of her childhood in the 1950s and 60s, enchanting the reader with a sensual depiction of New Amsterdam life and a family narrative shadowy with foreign influences and secrets.

My reading experience of Kiskadee Girl had such a great impact on me; I really connected with the narrative and was transported psychologically to Guyana. It is not often that books have such an impact, so when they do I have to consider why? Maybe I have been longing subconsciously to find that place where home and belonging are one!  Maybe now is the time to take that trip to Guyana that's been simmering for so many years?

I asked Maggie what her idea of home and belonging is, especially in the light of her childhood experiences in Guyana and her adult life in the UK:

"I have to begin by saying that part of me feels I don't belong anywhere, being a native of one country and a citizen of another will always cause a break in the psyche.  If one was to delve even deeper, we have to address questions of race and gender, history, and cultural identity.  Many of these are conditions of the human spirit that have nothing to do with where you were born.  I accepted my state of limbo many years ago, and decided to use it in an inspirational way. 

My father's sudden death when I was fifteen, an occurrence which was further complicated by my fore-knowledge of it, followed by my subsequent migration, abbreviated my childhood in a very sudden and finite way.  I travelled to this country in advance of my mother and sisters, so that transition itself was difficult, and things didn't happen as I expected them to.  


Mr and Mrs Harris, Maggie and baby sister Desiree in Guyana
It's easy to say that one should feel complete in one's self, carrying one's psychic wholeness wherever you settle, and to a large extent, I live out that aspect of myself through being a writer.  I draw on the cracks in my life and cast light on them.  

However, home and belonging are not just about place, i.e. familiarity, but about people.  It is about being with those you love and who love you.  As a mother, my children and grand-children have defined me as a human being as much as the country of my birth has.  It is a grown-up relationship founded in reality.  My children have grown up within a British culture to which I became acclimatised through them, as well as through my work.

For the past eight years I have been living in Wales, and that has been as difficult a transition as the very first migration.  One of the myths about belonging occurs through viewing the past through rose-coloured glasses.  As a child, I didn't think I was experiencing an idyllic childhood, on the contrary, it was a very regimented upbringing, complete with corporal punishment.  However, in the light of contemporary childhood, I feel very privileged as myself and my three sisters had the same parents, lived in the same house and were part of a social order which was supported by and large across the society at that time.

Naturally, the full nature of Guyana's turbulent past was not fully evident until later; it was the example of the adults around me that left their mark: the hard-working and spiritual ethic, the respect for education and elders.  Those were very different times, and I treasure the memory of them, the slower pace, the time for pause and reflection, waiting days for mail, the respect we were taught to show towards others. Without that upbringing I would not be the person I am.  

I guess, in a nutshell, it was that solid foundation of childhood that I identify as essential elements of home and belonging; that it occurred in Guyana, was a unique and magical extra, which I continue to feel grateful for."

* * *
My perspective on Home & Belonging

Me with my mum (Sophie) in the back garden
of my grandparents' house, London
Writing on the themes of home and belonging in my memoir My Skin, My Life took me back to my childhood. My grandparents lived in the basement and first floors of a large Victorian terraced house in Highbury, North London.  I lived with my mum in my grandparents' house for most of my childhood years.  This experience will always be remembered nostalgically as the first house I felt at home in.

When I moved to the Midlands with my mum in the 1960s, I was 13 years old.  I yearned to return to London and return I did, without Mum.  This was short-lived though.  Two weeks later, I missed her enough to throw in the towel and reluctantly went back to live with her. Living at my grandparents' house, despite going back to the secondary school I loved, felt so empty.

Me with my grandmother (Sophie)

So home is not just about place, although that is a factor.  Home is belonging and I belonged with Mum during those early teen years.  Had I have been a bit older, say 16 years old, then I may have had more of a sense of self and I may have been able to live in London without my mum.

I still felt I belonged in London though.  As soon as I left school in the Midlands, I made several attempts to flee the nest.  It wasn't until I was 21 years old that I made a successful move back to London without my mum and I immediately felt right at home despite the gap of eight years or so.  I think the need to return was due mostly to strong and positive childhood memories. Thank-goodness I retained them; they sustained me during my eight year wait.

And finally a quote:

"...there are places in which we feel at home, even if we don't live there; and people with whom we feel at home; and ideas that feel like home too.  Ultimately, of course, what we hope to find is a way of feeling truly at home in this world, in our own skin, with who we are, with - spiritually speaking - our essential nature.  If we push this far enough, then 'home' means being at peace in every moment, in any place." - Roselle Angwin

What does home and belonging mean to you?  
I'd love to hear from you, so please leave a comment.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

How I Wrote the First Draft of My Memoir: 'My Skin, My Life' in Less than 90 days, the Stephen King Way.

It's true, I started writing the first draft of my memoir My Skin, My Life, on 1st June 2014.  I completed the draft on 8th August 2014. How is that possible you may ask? 

Here are the key steps I took:
  • Started a Memoir Journal in March 2014
  • Read a few memoirs and other related books (you'll find them listed below)
  • Wrote 4 short memoir pieces of about 2000 words each
  • Shared two memoir pieces with trusted friends; one a writing buddy who provided feedback/critique and copy editing, the other an interested reader who provided her five best highlights
  • Browsed the Internet and read a lot of 'How to Write Your Memoir?' websites
  • Read On Writing by Stephen King (for the second time)
  • Browsed the Internet for non-fiction publishers 
Page 175 caught my attention!
Stephen King's quotes from On Writing:

'...I believe the first draft of a book - even a long one - 
should take no more than three months, the length of a season.  
Any longer and - for me, at least - the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel...'

There's more:

'I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words.  
That's 180,000 words over a three-month span, 
a goodish length for a book - 
something in which the reader can get happily lost,
 if the tale is done well and stays fresh.'

Stephen King suggests 1000 words a day, and he suggests taking one day a week off, at least to begin with. 'No more; you'll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do.'

So I made a note in my memoir journal in bright red:


The commitment written - in red - stared back at me.  What the heck, I thought, let's give this a shot!
  • By 3rd July, I had a draft word count of over 19,000 words.
  • By 8th August, I had a completed first draft of over 32,000 words.

In a future post, I'll share the writing process I used and how it felt to complete and then submit my memoir's first draft to my publishers.

I would be very interested to receive your comments.  If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch here.  I promise to respond as soon as possible. 

Books I read:
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro
  • Volcano by Yvonne Weekes
  • Kiskadee Girl by Maggie Harris - more on this gem in a future post!
  • Bad Blood by Lorna Sage
  • Stet an editor's life by Diana Athill
  • My Song - A Memoir of Art, Race and Defiance by Harry Belafonte - my review is here
  • Growing Up by Russell Baker
  • Journey of Memoir, The Three Stages of Memoir Writing - A Workbook - by Linda Joy Myers
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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Why You Should Read '7 Shades of Love' by Daniella Blechner



7 Shades of Love: Daniella Blechner
Poetry Anthology
Conscious Dreams Publishing 2014
Available on Kindle (Price: £2.52)
(Did you know you can download a Kindle free from Amazon?)

Book Review:

7 Shades of Love by Daniella Blechner is a collection of poems written by international contributors; women and men from England, Jamaica, USA, Malaysia, Canada and Kenya . The collection includes contributions from authors that express their perspective on love in their own unique style. 

Whether you like poetry or not, you will be in for a treat; 7 Shades of Love is much more than a poetry collection.  What attracted me, apart from the striking book cover's image and poems, was the 7 shades, which turn out to be the colours of the rainbow and each colour, from red to violet, leads you beautifully and smoothly into each section of the poems.

From the book's introduction, which not only puts the book in context, through to the captivating poetry from many of the contributors, including Daniella, who showcases her own poetic take on love, this book is a gem. As soon as it was released in September 2014, I was eager to download a copy on my Kindle. 

The book's unique quality of exploring the subject of love in 7 shades of colour adds a fascinating layer to the question of what is love? As well as exploring love through colours, Daniella delves into their associated meanings through both Eastern and Western traditions and beliefs. 

7 Shades of Love also provides fascinating and inspiring information about Chakras - there's much to learn - which adds a spiritual element that is rather uplifting. Positive affirmations that provide a soothing page break between chapters remind us of how using 'I' language provides a simple way to stay lovingly and positively focused on ourselves.

I liked 7 Shades of Love a lot.  This collection has something for everyone. You can dip in and out of the wonderful poetry, absorb the information about colours and Chakras and be uplifted by the positive affirmations.

In terms of poetry, there were two that stood out for me: Kate Robinson's Unconditionally was a lyrical delight:

don't love with conditions
and parentheses and quotation marks
and doodled brackets around the reasons
why today you love him but tomorrow you are unsure...

(Excerpt from the Violet Section)

Tamera Malya's thought-provoking poem The Eye drew me right in:

You gave me the eye the other night.
Looked me down hard.
The air between us cracked for a hot moment
with a bolt of ambiguous desire...

(Excerpt from the Orange section)

Daniella Blechner is a South London based writer/director whose real writing journey began by writing comedy sketches for Youth Project Phenomenon '98 featuring Gina Yashere and Richard Blackwood.  She has always been a keen writer and penned her first book All The Happy Animals and Lucille and her Great Adventure at just 8 years old. 

For more on Daniella Blechner

Thursday, 2 October 2014

National Poetry Day, remember? Remember! Maya Angelou

This is the beginning of a blog where words matter,
quality counts, and freelance writers or those in the
writing industry or those of you that love words
can share their thoughts and opinions.
I hope to provide you with valuable information 
to help you in your artistic endeavours. 


 Image from: National Visionary Leadership Project

Today is National Poetry Day, 
the theme for 2014 is 'remember'.

In the spirit of National Poetry Day, I pay tribute to  Maya Angelou, a legendary poet who blessed us with her life.  Maya Angelou's death at the age of  86 on 28th May, 2014 deprives the world of not just a great poet but a woman who was also a civil rights activist, film producer, television producer, playwright, film director, author, actress and professor.


Image from 20 Beautiful Maya Angelou Picture Quotes

Think of a poem:

Thinking of Maya Angelou's poems, two came easily and immediately to mind:


Still I Rise

Phenomenal Woman

Below you will find a link to the preview of a new lyrical poem of Still I Rise:

Still I Rise Exclusive Premiere

Phenomenal Woman has stayed with me ever since I discovered it and shared it at a creative writing class in the 1990s.  Both Still I Rise and Phenomenal Woman are timeless poems for all of us who appreciate the written word.  But more than that it reminds all woman and men how great women are!

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

By Maya Angelou


Who will you remember on National Poetry Day?

Remembering Maya Angelou: Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey Pay
Tribute to Legendary Poet

View Full Bio

More on National Poetry Day


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