Monday, June 28, 2010

New Paperback Edition of CAMPER VAN BLUES

Yes, the moment you have all been waiting for has arrived!

Salt have just reissued CAMPER VAN BLUES as a deliciously glossy paperback, priced at £9.99 - though it appears to pack a 20% discount if you buy it from the Salt website, rather than Amazon.

So if you held back from buying the rather more expensive - though equally delicious - hardback version, now is your chance to own my latest book of poetry for roughly the same price as a modest round of drinks in a London pub.

There are also a few available at Amazon, along with some very kind reviews.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fifth and Final Creative Redrafting Workshop up at Mslexia

I had some absolutely fantastic and heartwarming feedback today via the women's writing magazine Mslexia - people finding my recent series of Creative Redrafting workshops on the Mslexia website useful and full of practical, hands-on advice for reworking those old and abandoned poems.

The fifth and final workshop in the series is up now at Mslexia, a special series run in support of their annual Poetry Competition, to be judged by Vicki Feaver this year, with a first prize of £1000.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pulling Aside the Curtain: The Beginnings of Story

Being faced with further revisions to my novel, I currently find myself rewriting the opening scenes. In fact, I have to completely change the opening scenes of my novel and begin from a different character's perspective or narrative point of view.

This may sound simple, but the character in whose mind or presence a novel opens is utterly crucial in terms of the narrative skew of that story.

If we open with the internal monologue of a brick, the whole novel becomes brick-flavoured from that point on. Whoever else speaks, be it air, dust, stream, periwinkle, dog, human, alien - everything comes to us served alongside that underlying idea of brick.

Hardy understood that when he opened The Return of the Native with a lengthy description of 'heathy, furzy, briary wilderness', a landscape as much metaphorical as real.

An opening scene needs to introduce a world and a narratorial mind-set, not merely a character in a situation.

It might also suggest what lies ahead through the idea of conflict and opposition, i.e. if our opening character is naive to the point of absurdity, she may have grown cynical by the last page of the novel. Or if cynicism was her abiding state, then her faith in human nature may have been restored. A violent man may find death - for each world has rules, and consequences for breaking them - while a peace-loving man may stand over the body of his enemy blowing smoke from the barrel of his Smith and Wesson.

In other words, this is the reversal we hear talked about so much in writing classes and manuals. The reversal is inherent in the 'ordinary world' in which the story begins, built into the trigger or 'inciting incident' which signals the start of our plot. For a story is not a plot. Plot only begins when something actually happens. Until something happens to knock that first domino into its neighbour and so set the whole row tumbling, the story remains inert.

And within the visual and mental picture conjured by an opening scene should lie the seed or kernel of the plot. The opening narrative should be, or at least come to represent, the story as metaphor.

That's what I'm trying to do right now. Find the correct metaphor for my story, and open the prologue or first chapter with it. I had the perfect metaphor in my original first draft, but the story has moved on from that point in terms of character development, so I can no longer start there. It has to be something which perfectly unites all my ideas about theme and character and conflict, and which also points ahead to the resolution of the story without giving any details away.

The opening scene in the movie Twilight - also a kind of prologue in the book - is of a fawn, or young deer, running innocently through a fairy-tale forest, with the underlying sinister implication that it will soon meet a violent end, as all such vulnerable, beautiful, but ultimately mortal creatures must in their journey through the dark forest of life. It's a clear metaphor for the story, and combined with a heavy-handed voiceover by the main character Bella, it points ahead to the dangers and possible consequences of her choices in Twilight without giving away the details.

This metaphor has no connection with the next few scenes, however, and so feels clunky and out of place. It's not until later, when the real-life forest with its dangerous, unearthly inhabitants is encountered, that it becomes more acceptable to the viewer as an opening scene. In searching for my opening metaphor, then, I'll be looking to avoid that slightly awkward join to the rest of the novel.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Making the Century?

No, not years, but followers on Twitter.

I only have a piddling 56 followers to date - though thanks to all of you who have clicked Follow! - and am really keen to get my first century.

I can offer my followers wit, comment, information, and regular retweets. I can also follow you back if you're looking to build your own community of followers there.

Genuinely interesting content is not guaranteed, of course. But that's Twitter for you.

If you're on Twitter, or would like to be, or think you maybe ought to try it, and you're not already following me, I'd be thrilled if you'd go to:

and click Follow. Thanks!

Monday, June 07, 2010

More Mslexia Workshops now available

Interested in Writing as Genetics?

Or redrafting your poems as Building a Family Tree?

My third short article based around the theme of Creative Redrafting is now up on the Mslexia site.

Get it while it's hot!


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

"Didn't we have a luverly time the day we went to Bangor?"

Off to Bangor in North Wales this afternoon, to pick up my second eldest from university ... along with all her bags and general rubbish.

It's a long trip, but I shall be driving along with several happy thoughts in my mind:

  • How I'm going to open the next intrigue-ridden chapter in my historical Tudor novel
  • That I now have a most excellent literary agent to represent me in fiction.

We were in rainy Folkestone over the weekend, visiting my father and his sister's family down there in Kent. Tonight I'll be staying in a hotel near - hopefully sunny - Rhyl. On Friday and Saturday, Steve and I will be in Hayle for his daughter's birthday party, staying in a caravan near the sea, not many miles from Land's End.

That's three coastlines in one week. Not bad going, for someone who lives at the dead centre of England.

Mslexia Poetry Workshops

Just spotted that the first two instalments of my series of five linked articles on Creative Redrafting are now live on the Mslexia website.

Some of my weary but faithful regular readers may remember my first tentative blog posts on Creative Redrafting a few years back. Some may even have survived one of my workshop sessions using the technique. Well, this is an updated and expanded version of the same theory of poem revision, which will hopefully be useful for someone out there.

This particular incarnation of Creative Redrafting is a poetry workshop series specially commissioned by Mslexia to accompany their 2010 Poetry Competition, the idea being that you hone your competition entries by working through my suggestions - and those of fellow poets whose advice I solicited for this series - and improve your redrafting skills at the same time.

Experienced poets, writers and editors who contributed their know-how for these articles include Helen Ivory, Alison Brackenbury, Sophie Mayer, Annie Finch, Zoe Skoulding, Anne Berkeley and Nuala Ní Chonchúir.  

Many thanks to you all!