Archive | September, 2013

Update and Literary fiction

28 Sep

So, apologies for my lack of posting.  I just (finally!) finished my introductory week for my Masters which was incredibly full-on.  I came out of each pre-sessional with a headache from all the information thrown at us, stuff that I hadn’t looked at in years.. formulae, weird looking squiggles, concepts that I vaguely recalled but had been stored in some inaccessible corner of my mind…

With all of this going on, I haven’t been able to look over my draft properly but now this week is out of the way, my schedule is much more manageable – instead of 7 days a week, I have to go in two or three times a week so I’m able to schedule my writing around my studying.

But, more importantly, let’s talk about reading and writing:

This year I’ve tried to explore fiction I wouldn’t normally choose to read as I think it’s always helpful to have an idea of the general publishing market, to get a feel for what is in demand.  I’d always thought of myself before as a fan of literary fiction but as I thought about this type of fiction I love so much, I found it incredibly difficult to define.

Firstly I think the term ‘literary fiction’ can sound very pretentious, as though only fiction that falls in this elusive category is of literary merit.  I don’t think this is fair either: the prose of some genre fiction can be just as effective in some cases and sometimes more so than flowery, overly poetic language.

What exactly makes literary fiction so different from pure genre fiction?  For me, I concluded it was largely to do with characterisation.  Part of the joy of reading is to immerse yourself completely in a character, to care about the character or characters or if not about the characters, to be drawn towards the characterisation because it perhaps explores some repressed part of our own self.  Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, Mrs de Winter in Rebecca,  Mildred Lathbury in Excellent Women… three-dimensional captivating characters whose contemplations on life are often astute and reveal some sort of truth of the internal struggles people often go through.

However, while I think characterisation is of huge importance in literary fiction, I don’t agree with those that say there need be no emphasis on the plot.  I think plot is incredibly important; however, a mesmerising plot doesn’t need to be some high-octane, fast-paced tornado.  It can slowly unwind but it is not completely trivial.  Too often literary writers can weigh the page with conflicted internal monologues, deep musings, text laden with imagery, symbolism etc… an effortlessness, a light writerly touch should be achieved in strong fiction so prose doesn’t appear to laboured but of course, this is easier said than done.  I should know – having read the first few chapters of my draft, I have winced in embarrassment at the majority of my sentences!

Perhaps we should follow the example of writers of non-literary fiction.  I’m in the middle of reading ‘Life, Death and Vanilla Slices’ by comedienne, writer, general TV person, Jenny Eclair, and I’m really enjoying it.  It’s great picking books up at the library, you end up reading stuff you’d heard of but would never have thought about buying.  The novel isn’t something I’d have picked up last year, being rather cynical of “celebrity” writers but Eclair writes with sharp observation and wit.  The plot is surprisingly dark, touching and full of excellent black humour.   I’ve come to realise that basically I was a snob BUT my ingrained snobbish tendencies, which never fail to amaze me, are slowly but surely getting eradicated as I am determined to continue to give new genres and new authors a chance.

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Literary fiction authors should make sure there is a plot that isn’t completely inane; rather, that it serves a purpose and acts to genuinely move the story along, rather than leaving things to stagnate.   That’s incredibly frustrating for the reader and ultimately unsatisfactory.  It can be overly emotionally exhausting (and somewhat annoying) to wade through paragraph after paragraph of the ramblings of a neurotic protagonist without any progress, contrast or a smattering of light relief.

After I finish reading through the draft, I’ll work on the plot of my story to strengthen it and tighten any loose ends so it’s not a rambling incoherent mess but a story that achieves a balance between characterisation and plot, both of which will inform the other.  Introspection in a novel is good and something I love reading and writing, but without movement, it’s so easy for the story to result in stagnation.  And this is something I repeatedly make the mistake of doing in my own work which I sometimes overload with lines and lines of internal discourse that would probably make any reader fall asleep!  So this is something I definitely need to work on.  And as everything in life, moderation is key.

New chapter

16 Sep

So I’m no longer an employee.

I left work last Friday and have a week off before I become a student again, so for these few days, I’m savouring the lie-ins, reading in my bed instead of a smelly train carriage and blanking everything else out to really focus on my writing.  I’ve been devouring book after book on how to edit a manuscript and my mind is brimming with plenty of helpful tips that make the process of reading through my first draft far less daunting.  One of the best books on this that I’ve found so far is ‘Self-editing for fiction writers – how to edit yourself into print’ by Browne and King, which has loads of great pointers on things to consider and examples showing you the right and wrong ways to do things.

Change is always a little unsettling, but I had been ready to take this next step for a while.  And since it is a period of endings, and new beginnings I thought I would evaluate what I have learnt this last year and four months as a working woman.

1.  Appearances can be deceptive – yes, yes, a tired cliche for sure but this was something that I experienced first-hand when I started work.  I was paired with someone I initially hated and thought I would never get on with.  He was a lot older than me, set in his ways, definitely not the most politically correct person and I found him stubborn and his controversial views antagonistic.  In fact, when he first started at the firm as my senior, I was looking for ways to leave – I couldn’t see beyond my frustration.  However, with time, I began to accept certain things about him – the job climate out there was tough and I knew it wouldn’t look good to only stay at a company for a couple of months – and just got on with my job.  Soon, I found myself chatting to him, normally, without any sarcasm or irritation, and we began working well together.  He saw that I was hardworking and astute, and before I knew it, we had established a very unlikely friendship.   In fact, he became one of the people I was closest to at work and I was incredibly touched last week when he presented me with a beautiful Sheaffer pen as a goodbye present, because he knew I loved writing.  Looking back, I realise I can be an incredibly judgemental person – I tend to let my emotions cloud me and my hotheadedness means that I often don’t look beyond a person’s exterior, their gruff facade and then I end up (in this case, nearly) missing out on discovering the genuine person underneath.  And that would be my loss.

2.  There are some people I just have nothing in common with.  Our office was next to a number of other offices and initially I would try to be friendly with everyone.  I maintained this cheery facade for a good few months, trying to make conversations with everyone while I happened to be making teas in the communal kitchen.  After a while though, I grew tired and resentful at often having to be the person to initiate things.  I found myself questioning why I was making conversation/ trying to fit in with people that were so clearly not like me – ‘lads’ who constantly call women ‘birds’ and women who talk openly about their sexual antics.  People are free to talk about what they want to but initially I would berate myself for not ‘fitting in’, not being able to hold a conversation with so many people at work but then I realised, in the crudest terms, I don’t give a flying f**k about not being like these people.  I got over it and enjoyed resisting the urge to fill in awkward silences.. indeed, the less I tried, the more other people seemed to.

3. Writing is what I want to do.  Strangely, I only realised this in the last year or so while I was working.  Much of my work did involve writing articles and press releases which I suppose gave me more confidence in my writing.  After all, if the articles I was writing on behalf of my clients were good enough to be published online or in financial trade publications, then surely my writing wasn’t completely inane and rubbish.  Propelled by this realisation, I decided to learn as much as I could about writing and I’m pretty excited to improve more and more.

4.  Getting older is not something to be feared.  I used to hate birthdays.  I hated the idea of getting older.  It only made me think of the things I haven’t accomplished, compared with all those people my age and younger who had.  But this was a ridiculous way of looking at things. I have learnt that comparing myself with others is never good and it only breeds resentment, envy and insecurity.  Not only this but it stops me from focusing on what I’ve accomplished myself.  So, I allow myself to admire people for their various accomplishments, style, confidence but I don’t get weighed down by it all anymore which is freeing.  There’s also something really nice about getting older – you feel less pressure to be like everyone else, look like everyone else, enjoy what everyone else enjoys.  You grow into your individuality and that’s lovely.

5.  Letting go of the past frees up the present.  I used to be one of those people who would constantly harp back to past times, whether it would be mourning my skinny adolescent frame, reminiscing about former flames, contemplating ‘what ifs’.  But I saw everything through rose-tinted glasses.  The reality was that back then I was skinny because I was ill; he was a narcissist, highly insensitive and emotionally devoid; and what ifs are futile because I wasn’t in the right state emotionally.  I would have ended up in the mess I found myself in whatever route I had chosen to go down because I hadn’t invested in myself.  So actually, right now, this very moment, is what I should be focusing on instead of imagining things were better than they were.  By always looking back, it’s almost as though I am saying to myself that my life is over which couldn’t be further from the truth.  There are so many opportunities out there but to seize them, one has to first notice them and you can’t notice opportunities when your mind is rooted in the past.

I’m interested to see what my experience as a Masters student will be like.  So far I’ve not been overly impressed by many educational institutions but I’m hoping that as a wiser 24 year old with a greater understanding of what I want from my studies and life in general, I’ll be able to enjoy the experience and learn a lot 🙂

First draft completed

9 Sep

I completed my first novel draft last week and have printed it all out, ordered it neatly in a folder and put it to one side.

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While I’m obviously ecstatic that I’ve completed it – I had set myself the deadline of the end of October but at one point, that seemed near impossible – I’m suffering some sort of weird anxiety about reading it objectively.  I know it’ll be rubbish – first drafts are meant to be (this is what I keep telling myself!) but there’s something so painful about actually realising that firsthand.  That words that I thought were great at the time of typing them actually are embarrassingly bad.  Plus I’ve started having doubts about the plot, the story, everything!  Which is why I’ve avoided having to read the damned thing so far.

But, I’ll have to take a look at it soon.  Then I’ll cringe, beat my hands in frustration and be temporarily riddled with insecurities as I read over my clunky prose.  But I guess I just need to get it over and done with.

This is my last week at work.  I’ve worked at this particular PR firm for one year and four months which is very long for me.  But now I have been awarded a scholarship to study for a Masters so I’ll be doing that for a year which will be very different.  (Too many italicised words here.) And to reward myself – or perhaps just because my Masters will require it – I will be getting myself a new laptop,  One with a larger screen and shiny keys, one that doesn’t take two hours to start up before deciding to freeze on me… so I can enjoy tapping away and writing my stories as and when they come 🙂

How I keep going – Mslexia feature

3 Sep

Here’s my little bit on how I keep going in this season’s issue of Mslexia!mslexia