Wednesday, 30 January 2008

The only way forward is to improve

And the best way to do this is through courses. It’s a precious amount of time with like-minded, creative and driven individuals who spark ideas and listen to you rant about scenes in your current favourite novel or stanzas and imagery from your favourite poet.

Last year I spent a fantastic week in Torrox pueblo, Malaga, with the delightful Mario Petrucci and the very honest Sue Hubbard. I learnt more in that week than I’d have learnt in years trundling along alone. I’ve heard that Writer’s Inc won’t be able to continue in Spain this year due to funding being pulled – I also have it on good authority they’ve put in a good case so let’s hope they get their wish…it would be a shame if their expertise was lost in this way.

I was also lucky enough to go to the 2007 Cambridge WordFest and listen to talents such as A.L. Kennedy, Tony Harrison, and Sarah Waters read, and attend workshops by a charming bunch; Ruth Padel, Chris Hamilton-Emery and Tobias Hill. So, this year I’m determined to learn more than ever.

I’m amazed how many courses there are out there to choose from, and so I’ve been spending this month doing some in-depth homework. So how do you choose? Easy! Consider the many factors in your life that can’t be ignored and work around them. We all have commitments at work and home, health issues, limited time to travel, and a limited supply of money…these have to factor in. Then consider your interests, abilities, dedication levels and the course content. And don’t forget the tutor; if you don’t like their style, what would you learn?

In my case, I’m off to Australia for three weeks in April so I’m limited to 11 days holiday. Then there’s where I live and the cost of flights as well as the course…but there’s many out there that will suit; here’s what I’ve found…

I’m particularly excited by Arvon’s Writing and New Media course at Lumb Bank in November, with Chris Meade and Kate Pullinger. I’m booking it tomorrow before I procrastinate too much and the places disappear! I’m so internet based it would be amazing to create something new and fresh, like the course description suggests. I’m excited that I’ll learn new skills and take them away to improve upon what I do, whilst being at the cutting edge of literature. Love it or loath it, technology is here to stay and leading the way. Do we write with quills or chalk any more?

Of course, I can’t wait that long however! I’ve have fit in two weekends near where I live; In The Write Light in Tarifa. The first is an all encompassing creative writing weekend with Alan Jude Moore, and the second is with Paul Perry. These should feed the imagination, and allow me to take a step outside of where I live; Andalucia is stunning but I live here so the daily grind factors in. Again, the tutors are top notch and the experience will be rich – all within an hour of my home. All booked and paid for by Saturday. What a great feeling.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

On trying to join a writers groups

Based here in Spain I have an internet based network which means no second eyes to read my work and no audience to practice on. So I had an idea; call me crazy but I decided to try and join a writer’s group. Crazy…Why? Well there’s some stigma attached; apparently writer’s groups are for sad lonely women with nothing better to do or wannabe writers who like to be told their work is great by everyone so they can pour out the same trite. Or so I’m told by a friend. So was she right? Well, she was wrong actually…

Based in a quiet hotel on the Estepona motorway, I was greeted by an American lady, Amy, whose details had been sent my way via email. As everyone arrived, there was not one sad old lady in sight. I was sat with a famous artist from the Costa coast, a lady whose book on climate change was about to be published, freelancers with articles and non-fiction in circulation, and many aspiring writers with great wit and stories to tell. All wannabe writers, including myself…that was the point!

It turned out I was amongst the most experienced which is opposite to whatI expected; this didn´t matter to me as we have something to learn from every scenario. I felt a little embarrassed by my introduction as I’d gone first. I’m very confident, and to me there’s nothing worse then accidentally putting others off. But the environment was supportive and Amy maintained an encouraging atmosphere, it was amazing how quickly everyone relaxed under this united desire to ´put black on white´. After everyone had revealed a bit about themselves and a date/time was agreed, I felt heavy of heart. My career was in the way (again) and I wouldn’t be able to attend.

As we did a free-flow exercise based on a postcard, the group turned from a band of shy adults embarrassed by the thought of reading, to a group where everyone shared. I felt an affinity with this scenario; my lack of audience making readings my greatest desire yet my weakest spot. As we enjoyed the different outlooks that the single prompt gave, my mindset changed. I’d had the chance to do a spot of writing, I’d met Amy who would have otherwise stayed yet another anonymous cyber face, and I’d got to read out to an audience. Plus, I got a spark of an idea for a short story which may well land me in another anthology…

I walked away with a smile. Everyone got something out of the introductory session that day. I eve arrived home to an email from Amy asking about my website and apologising for the timings not suiting. Well, no apology needed. I’ll keep in touch and if situations change, I may be able to go. If not, there’ll be something else that comes my way. It always does.

So, to the friend that thinks it’s sad to go to a writers group? Call me crazy if you like. At least everyone there is doing something towards their writing dream – whatever their dream may be. After all, if we stop dreaming, we might as well be dead. It´s obvious the Estepona writing group is going to be a fantastic place to hone writing skills and to bond with others with the same interest; I wish the group well, though I´m certain it´s not needed.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Goals for 2008: all on track.

As New Year resolutions are usually thought out in the negative (I must count down on…I must stop…I must try not to… - you fill in the blanks), they are dead and buried beneath the rubble of everyday life within a few weeks of being made.

Ever the optimist and probably somewhat infuriating, this year I made my resolutions all about writing. For instance; attend a course, expand my website, get 30 pieces published, get more items published offline, read more poetry...You get the idea.

I’m happy with the year so far; I’ve already have had two poems, six haiku and a flash fiction piece accepted, and I’ve expanded my website and am proud of its new features. I’ve spotted (but am yet to book) an intriguing Arvon course and am smilingly focused.

But another (small yet giant) step has been made; my three submissions for the Six Sentences Volume I publication have been accepted meaning I will have more items published offline. Fantastic!

This brings to three conclusions: 1. I need to increase the target limit for published items. 2. I need to keep the pace to achieve my aims. 3. I made the right choice with my resolutions.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

On simultaneous submissions

This is an often tricky area for newer writers, but it needn’t be. The answer is simple; if a publication states no simultaneous submissions, then don’t send them. Imagine the embarrassment of having them accepted in two places and having to retract them…What could your explanation be? “I completely ignored all your stipulations and did it anyway.” Might as well make a rude finger gesture and be done with it (and your reputation as a writer)!

In general, however, sending simultaneous submissions is fine; just have the courtesy to let the publication know. This happened to me recently; I sent the same two poems to The Ranfurly Review and Dogeater; in each case I stated they were simultaneous submissions. Ranfurly got there first and so I simply let Dogeater know and they were very polite with their reply that I received this morning. Simple!

I’d say competitions are completely different, however, and the same piece should never be submitted in competitions running at the same time. With prize money and a whole heap of time spent going through a mountain of submissions at stake – it’s a potentially toxic situation. Definitely wait until you hear a result before placing in another competition.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

The importance of being less earnest.

It’s been a week where my career has been the prevalent factor and so my writing has been slower. However, I see it as a positive thing; I’ve padded the limited time outside with poetry (Jacob Sam-La Rose, Lorca and Plath to be precise) and had time to catch breath and think.

It can be too easy to get caught up in sending work out. Maybe, just maybe, the new writer determined to be published is sometimes a little hasty; sending a piece with a few barnacles left on it still. I’ve just stated probably the worst thing any writer could admit to. But it’s true – especially in these early stages.

The value of revisiting and editing work can not be emphasised enough. It’s probably the toughest lesson to learn; only send it when it’s good enough. If not only to save receiving yet another rejection, then to save your reputation! If you can’t get another writer (I suffer from this scenario) then leave it aside a few weeks, a month or two before revisiting. But remember, sometimes it’s a dud; accept that.

Edit enough and you’ll reap the rewards. This gentle week has bore some very nice fruit indeed; The Ranfurly Review has accepted my submissions Shadow Puppets and On My Father: Sheik Mohammad Jallow for their 3rd issue which will be published in June. My latest six sentences flash fiction has gone live, along with another of my Dogmatika haiku.

I’ve also an agreement from Jacob Sam-La Rose to review his Arts Council commissioned piece Magnitude (you can read my review here). Now lets just hope the Arts Council will let me reproduce the poem…

Monday, 7 January 2008

On being on fire.

It’s been a busy weekend and I am now taking a break for the rest of the day to read. Some Neruda would go down well...

Since mid December I have now managed to put out thirteen submissions which are currently sitting in various places including; Wolf, Magma, Decomposed, Mslexia, Interpoetry, Open Wide and The Ranfurly Review. I said this was the year for me to get in print; as you can see, I meant it.

Some submissions will be over ambitious, a few won´t be what they’re looking for and others will be snapped up; or so I believe. This is what past experience has taught me; but my work is more polished now and from somewhere my confidence has kicked back in. I’m a human comet. It gets refused? It gets reworked. Simple.

The weekend has been very successful; I’ve realised the genius of MySpace which has tentatively put me in contact with the striking Jacob Sam-La Rose and wonderfully humble Angela Readman (who turns out to have a mutual friend).

Mario Petrucci reviewed what I’d written about his poem “In Touch”, and some other poets have agreed to let me review their work, with the promise of a reply on the commentary pending – you’ll have to wait!

And guess what? They’re all so very…human! They’re honest and helpful despite being fantastically busy with much more important ventures than someone starting out like myself can offer. This just gives me more hope. So thanks, guys.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Using the web

Residing in Spain, I have been told (on good authority), is a complete disadvantage, somewhat disadvantageous, and not a disadvantage at all! I’ve decided to make up my own mind and have been considering how to best utilise what I have at hand; the internet.

As much as literature is forward thinking with regards the barriers of language (which are there to be perfected and smashed), when it comes to technology it can be irritatingly backward.

Fears that the publication of e-books will destroy the bookshop and printing industries stilt the growth of literature on the web, but it’s an inevitable part of development. There are hundreds of sites online where people can publish their work. This means an outlet for budding writers but also an influx of poor literature for free readily available. Can you see the danger?

Yes, there are innovators out there such as Chris Meade and Kate Pullinger (both of whom I hope to join at Arvon later this year) but generally, progress is slow and the real value is still opaque. If the literary world doesn't catch up soon I believe the internet will become singled out as a place to write rot.

Of course there have been some positive movements; The Poetry Society is working towards their centenary year researching the position of poetry in Britain and how it can be made more accessible. The Poetry Library now links to literary e-zines with an editorial process of the standard expected by print magazines. But why is the literary world still dragging its heels?

As I live in Spain but do not speak Spanish fluently, I would be ostracised from the literary world were it not for the internet; information sites, publisher and author profiles, literary blogs, forums and even You Tube. These are where I get my fix in my absence from the UK. So surely it makes sense to use this outlet to define my writing and my presence?

My website has seen many transformations over the last two years, and is now pretty much a site I can be proud of. My web presence has now grown (finalised the last few days) to incorporate poetry critiques, this publishing blog, an x365 project (see the original project here), MySpace and a novel building experiment.

All well and good; but it’s going to take some damned hard graft to make it work.

My writing and reasons

My reason for writing is, as all who write will tell you, twofold: I love it and I feel compelled.

I have a strong recollection of being laughed at when I openly declared “I want to be a poet, an artist or a teacher” to adults on the rough council estate where I grew up. In Southbank, Middlesbrough, most adults have never worked a day in their lives and have no compunction about it.

I dabbled with art but chose not to follow that path, preferring the enticing words of Aeschylus and Ovid over the call of smeared paint and pastel dust (which I still cover myself in from time to time; words and art are inseparable).

I taught in English schools for five years before leaving native shores and, finally, settling in Andalucia. After abandoning a failed marriage I somehow ended up ricocheting myself into a more familiar yet chaotic world and my need to write has reawakened as my life has settled into this happy maelstrom.

In the last year, I have been overjoyed with my progress; I’ve had workshops with Ruth Padel, Tobias Hill, Chris Hamilton Emery; seen Tony Harrison, AL Kennedy and Ali Smith in their finery, amongst others. I spent an intense week with The Blue Nose poets Mario Petrucci and Sue Hubbard in a charming Andalucian village, and I’ve written two draft zero novels; each in the space of a month.

My website has grown as submissions have been accepted by The Beat, 3am, Dogmatika, Six Sentences and Savage Manners. My understanding has doubled as I’ve received rejections and suggestions from Mslexia, Straight from the Fridge and Wolf etc.

But the point is; there’s no way I could get jaded.

May many more big shouts of NO and snippets of reasons why pile into my stuffed Spanish letterbox and guide me.