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The Female Writer and Anger.

Jul 08, 2018

If you are a woman and you are a writer, you are not allowed to be angry.

If you feel angry about something and write with high feeling, you may be described, as a former agent once described a piece of my writing, as 'hysterical.' 

She did not mean -  'very funny'.

Hysteria: extreme fear, excitement, anger, etc. that cannot be controlled.

- an old-fashioned term for a psychological disorder characterized by conversion of psychological stress into physical symptoms (somatization) or a change in self-awareness (such as a fugue state or selective amnesia).

- "characteristic of hysteria," from Latin hystericus "of the womb," from Greek hysterikos "of the womb, suffering in the womb," from hystera "womb

Hysteria was a psychological affliction presenting exclusively in women during a period of greater individual freedom and migration in the Victorian era in the United Kingdom with a developing urban industrial economy...

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Politics in the Novel.

Jul 01, 2018
 

Most 'big' books will have a theme and that's what I mean by politics.

This is not to say that theme belongs to a party-driven agenda - a book should not be in my opinion a vehicle for an organized group. Party = partie, in French, parted or departed, divided, to one side. Taking a position which is aligned to any established group degrades the author and the reader. (I hate to see authors' politics trumpeted on social media, it puts me off reading their books. No one wants their nose pushed into the swill of the trough.) Readers are intelligent people who form their own opinions and many will have experiences and opinions quite different to yours and if you only wish to speak to those who agree with you, then you should stick to social media and keep hitting the unfriend button.

'Big' books fast-forward our collective thinking, usually by crushing or condemning a commonly accepted truth or way of life. They trample on convenient, fast-food commonplace ideas. 

...

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Defying Gender as a Writer.

Jun 17, 2018
 

 Women, Men & Other Clichés

 'I think being a woman is like being Irish... Everyone says you're important and nice, but you take second place all the time.' Iris Murdoch.

The Man Booker 2007 winner, Anne Enright has spoken out on how books by women are rarely reviewed by men, while books by men are appraised by critics of both genders. The implication is that literary editors believe books by male writers express universal concerns while those by women are regarded as much narrower in scope, lacking the subtlety needed to engage the mind of the cerebral male. Anne Enright has also observed that The International Dublin Literary Award (formerly known as the Impac), the richest on the literary landscape with a purse of €100,000, has been won by a man each year for the last 16 years.

New York Times Bestseller List  - Gender Representation Over Time:

In the 1990s, women finally made steady gains on the list over ten years. 2001 saw the...

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What's Your Genre?

Jun 10, 2018
 

Sometime back in the 2000's 'literary' became a dirty word.

My first book was published in 2004. My work was hailed as 'the opposite of chick lit' but that was a double-edged sword ... 

I didn't see myself as conforming to any genre. I had never considered genre at all. My first novel was a dark comedy, written in quite a light-hearted tone of voice entirely and purposely unsuited to the subject matter of a man trying to die with dignity. My second was, if you like, 'historical fiction', set in Belfast during The Troubles of 1979-1981. The third was another black comedy, concerning a hapless Englishman 'living the good life', a pharmaceuticals salesman selling anti-depressants to the African continent and enjoying sex with strangers. The fourth was a quainter comedy, an old man determined to claw his way back into the bosom of the family who do not want him.

Stop.

It's 2010. I'd produced four novels, one every one and a half years. 

I went to see my agent. 'How...

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The Importance of Tone of Voice in Writing Fiction.

Jun 03, 2018
 

 At more than halfway through writing this novel, I pulled into the writer's layby to check tone of voice as I was worried that in the darker parts I'd let the humourous voice slip. (As you all know, there comes a gloomy writing day usually followed by a brighter one.)

I took a reading break to spoon feed myself some literary Haagen-Dazs courtesy of 'A Man Called Ove'. The irascible but loveable contrary main character offers a comic touch that's as pleasing as raspberry ripple.

I went back and checked my work through. I went back to the first chapter. By coarsening the main character, being certain about her flaw, I was able to maintain the tone of voice better throughout, so I needed to tweak the beginning to make it more 'declaratory'.

So tone of voice and character go hand in hand. This guy/girl's bad, but it's ok, you and me can see it.

Getting tone of voice right and keeping it as the North star throughout your writing, occasionally stopping when the night is...

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Long live, Everyman.

May 27, 2018
 

Never mediocre.

Humbling, yet humble. A combination that made Philip Roth great.

His books were like knives we couldn’t put down despite them cutting our hands.

This is an article I wrote for The Independent in 2008 when asked to choose my book of a lifetime, which was 'Everyman' by Mr Roth.

Philip Roth retired from writing in 2012, appending a Post-It note to his computer which read simply 'The struggle with writing is done.'

Philip Roth has left us, but he has left us with an inspiring body of work and the humble reminder that every novel is new. Every time you write it, you learn how to write all lover again. 

'You begin every book as an amateur. ... Gradually, by writing sentence after sentence, the book, as it were, reveals itself to you. ... Each and every sentence is a revelation.' (Philip Roth 2006).

Encouragement for writers in the middle of a book.

I am now some 34,000 words into the writing of my fable which I think will conclude at about...

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Francois Mauriac.

May 20, 2018
 

There is one reason I write.

There is a reason I write and will always write until they take the pencil away from me. The mystery.

The mystery of what’s going to happen on the page.

The mystery of what’s happening off the page.

Things occur to you differently. You see like a child, you're suddenly shocked at things you didn't see a certain way before and you're seeing them differently because of your emotional attachment to the theme of your book which was not the one you chose. You had an idea and a theme and you began to write, but then something mysterious happened. A wolf whistle in the dark. You were called away from your plodder's work to see behind a wall. You went. That's the main thing, you went.

I never expected the book I am writing to take the turn it has taken. I am now at 25,000 words and have had to regroup and revise the first part to take the beautiful blow of a change of theme and reassess where I've been and where I'm going with the...

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Find the Lie, Nail the Story.

May 13, 2018
 

'Why haven't you done anything with the book you wrote last year?' My son asked me.

'Because it's not important. I needed to write it but the world doesn't need it.'

'I would read it.'

'You can't because it's not published. I'm not publishing it.'

This is the nub of the matter for a writer; importance.  I know it's hard to confess it. But it's true.

It's only a sense of its 'importance' that will drive you all the way to the end to publishing that book. 

I have wrestled with myself to pinpoint the importance of the book I am writing. At first I began wanting it to be adorable, then I knew it had to also be important but I was only half sure why. After all, why should my time on this earth, my experience, my opinions lead me to any discoveries or convictions or ideas of any importance to others?

I had a premise and a plan for the book, and was armed with materials and ideas thanks to the studies of the Classic course which would stand a chance of the work being...

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The Premise of Your Story - The Morality Tale

Apr 28, 2018
 

Any tale of any kind told to humans by humans is and has ever been a morality tale.

'There was a man who... ' This person has a flaw, a failing, either moral (a tendency that will bring them and others misery) or cosmic (a hole in his or her fortune). They can't see it. Well, I can't see mine, but Robbie Burns was right to bemoan the fact that we cannot see ourselves as others see us. It would save us a lot of grief. But a tale is the closest we ever come, like Narcissus, to gazing at our own reflection.

The action of the book sets the flaw straight or shows it in dreadful relief.

At the denouement the protagonist takes one of two paths - he sees it and corrects it or stands corrected, or - and perhaps wonderfully, embraces it. This latter is a very rare outcome (The Godfather is much quoted as one of these, and I do rather like the idea of playing with the usual form.) 

So your hook must posit - a person with flaw, and the outcome is this flaw being corrected. That my...

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Fables.

Apr 22, 2018
 

"Alas,” said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.”

“You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.

Franz Kafka: “A Little Fable”

Coelho wrote his 45,00 word 'The Alchemist' in two weeks, as it was 'written in his soul.' It is 'a fable about following your dream.'

As those taking the Classic course know, what you write can come true.

In the very first chapters of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' JR Rowling declares that Harry Potter will become famous worldwide.

In a way, a book is a spell. 

So long as you know what it's about, what its promise is, in one sentence,  you can  deliver it...

Read on...
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The Novelry.