On line publishing

For years I avoided this. For years I’ve been trying to publish the traditional way. I’ve had some successes but small ones. Seven draft novels sit in the cupboard and I keep typing.

But, in the end, the internet is irresistable and I have been seduced once before.

This week, I have a short story, born out of my memoir, published by The Mechanics Review, a publishing venture connected with Birkbeck College of the University of London. It is a matter of contacts and making use of them to, at least, publish something, somewhere. And where better than with a university. Now I come to think of it, I was published by my MA university, the University of Chichester. That was a poem, and while I am proud of it and appreciate ChiUni including it in the anthology, I would never claim to be a poet or aspire to be one.

I am about to finish the How to Write a Novel Course by The Unthank School and to embark on the self-publishing journey with my memoir.

For now I can say I am proud and happy to be published by mironline at mironline.org/jane-hayward/

 

 

 

 

You think you have finished…

My memoir is complete. I have written all want to write. I have told my story. I have lost count of how many drafts I’ve created. I’ve been writing various versions of this history for the last 16 years.

Lesson 1. The first draft won’t do. Most writers create, destroy, re-create. Writing takes a long time and much devotion.

A patient member of my family has checked and re-checked, at each new draft, for style, content, order of episodes, smoothness of reading, omissions, grammar and spelling. I’m by nature a minimalist writer so sometimes I have taken his suggestions on board, sometime not.

Lesson 2. You cannot complete your task alone. However, it is your manuscript. You have the power to say ‘No’.

When my story was in novel form, (and I thought it was finished) I submitted to agents. Nothing doing. As a memoir, I submitted to independent publishers. Nothing doing.

Lesson 3. Submitting and getting rejections is a learning process. You are forced to accept your work isn’t good enough, or not suitable for, the current market. You could give up, but I’m not writing this for quitters.

I have, at last, accepted there is no commercial market for my memoir. But I am still sure there are those ‘out there’ who would want to read it. I have decided to publish the book myself – one way or another.

Lesson 4. Be realistic and optimistic.

I certainly don’t want to waste my money on an amateur product so have found a professional editor, who knows my work, to copy-edit my manuscript. And a free-lance cover illustrator if I want to use one.

Lesson 5. Self-publishing is a big step. You need helping hands on board.

I have investigated partnership publishing (you pay a percentage, the publisher pays a percentage) and self-publishing (you find a self-publisher with a reputation for being reliable, you pay for whichever services you want to buy and that publisher fulfils your order).

I have made progress along this path. I’ve attended a self-publishing day offered by one company, obtained quotes for publication from more than one company, investigated marketing and distribution arrangements offered by more than one company and I have obtained draft contracts from more than one company. I have learnt they are not all on the same playing field.

I am almost ‘ready-to-go’. I have the six week fallow period, while the manuscript is copy-edited, to re-read and compare, think, add up the sums, research book shops I can approach for ‘Saturday tables’ to sell my book and talk to everyone I know who has experience of this big adventure.

Lesson 6. Publishing a book is a slow process. (I have rejected publishing only an e-book). Learn all you can about the services on offer. If you can, meet the teams involved. Most importantly, think, discuss, think again, discuss, think one more time and be sure you know what you are doing.

This is your book. It is precious.

 

 

Writing Towards an Achievement

This week I am to submit the work I have produced, on the Unthank School’s ‘How to Write a Novel’ course, for their appraisal.

With the 5000 word narration from the novel I have been working on with the tutor, I am asked to attach an evaluation of my writing. A synopsis is optional. Writing a synopsis is horrible. There is no other word for it, to reduce your slaved-over manuscript to a thousand words or maybe less. To write slick prose which will capture the eager eye of an agent or editor or, more likely these days, of the proprietor of an independent publisher. I have written one which will do, which I will, no doubt, alter before it goes anywhere else. A synopsis inevitably fails in its task, to sell your book on a single idea.

The evaluation, however, is a challenge, one to be taken seriously. After all, I have paid for this course, I have developed my writing as a result of this course and I need to satisfy myself the time and money spent was worthwhile.

If that sounds mingy, it is. It is mingy of me to reduce the enjoyment I have had from following the course, the challenge I have met in doing my best to complete every one of the four exercises set each week – hands up time, this last week, I have failed by one – and the enlightenment I have experienced in reading the lectures, learning from them and putting the principles into practice.

It’s not the first time I’d read about both the 3 and 5 Act structure for a novel. About the mind-boggling 36 dramatic situations some guy called George Polti constructed, about the 20 master plots developed by Ronald B Tobias and about Aristotle’s theory of drama. I have a copy, on my bookshelves, of Christopher Booker’s volume The Seven Basic Plots. But had I ever evaluated them, made notes about them, analysed them or applied them to my novel? I had not. But now I have.

I had not heard of Field’s character questionnaire but had fun filling it in, getting to know my characters. I have written a time-line for my novel, three possible opening chapters, the inciting incident for the climax of the novel and the final chapter. I have changed the choice of the narrator’s voice. I have made that much progress.

In response to one exercise, I wrote a piece called The Writer’s Walk which you can read in a blog on this site.

What I have not yet done is to assemble my 5000 words for the evaluation. There’s always tomorrow.

Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about. Winston Churchill.

A Writer’s Day

As a reader of the Saturday Guardian, I do miss the former, now demised, Review Section. My five minutes with Tim Lott were a tonic as were the many other sections of this publication. I understand re mounting costs but seems sad that various aspects of life are becomming thinner. Especially in the world of writing.

It occurred to me a piece on my day as a writer would be a small offering which might  fill the gap. This week, when the person living with me is off skiing, I am able to totally please myself as to what I do. Writer’s heaven.

When I first wake, often before 6am but always before 7, I indulge in a quiet think about where I am in my writing life and what I should achieve that day. As today is a Sunday, I must submit my final exercise for my How To Write a Novel course with the UnthankSchool.

But, I’ve had it impressed upon me, that I must improve my ‘online’ presence (for a forthcoming project, more of that later). I switch on my laptop, click the Firefox icon, then the link to my email box. One from the skier, one from another family member, none to do with writing. Well, it is Sunday. The twitter link brings more hope. Several tweets from unknown fellow writers and readers wishing me a happy birthday for yesterday and one from The Sunday Times who say they are now following me on Twitter. Immediately, I reverse my decision not to buy that paper today. Send a writing- connected tweet. Finally, I check my Unthank link just in case someone on the course posted work after I’d closed down yesterday. Nothing. Check again later.

Make a cup of tea and return to bed to write first half of course exercise. An hour later, I click ‘Save’ and get up. I always write better in bed. My mother was correct. (See Page, ABOUT)

Out to buy my newspaper and then to eat breakfast, in silence, with my reading glasses on my nose and the paper spread all over the table. Food always slows my brain. I check the TV listings in case I want to record anything. This flat has not joined whichever century we are in with ‘watch on demand.’

Eventually do complete the exercise and give myself a pat on the back. Not because I think it is done and dusted but it’s great to have written a possible ending for the novel.

After that things either move more speedily or the day is in decline, whichever is your point of view. Coffee while I listen to Desert Island Discs, turning the pages of the paper and thinking, no, no no… Put all papers in the recycling bin. A second coffee and a session ‘tidying up’ the hard drive on my recording box brings me back to my study where I print an email from Matador, the self-publishing publisher, and make a good resolution to open a file on this after lunch.

The heating has turned itself off. I warm up with a large sherry and turn on oven. With food in or on oven, I open a bottle of red wine. Eat and drink. Later, back to the TV to watch old stuff before I delete, a task which requires a second glass. Small snooze.

Tea wakes me up, getting me back to study. Re-run the social media routine and, on Unthank site, find work to comment on. Suddenly, it’s five o’clock and time for Paul O’Grady on BBC2. Create file. Give it a pat. Regard all the papers on the floor of my writing room and decide they can wait. As can creating a ‘must submit a short story’ list. It’s Sunday. Always on a Sunday, at six o’clock, we have a sherry.

Reading this over, I can understand why the Guardian scrapped those entertaining articles on a writer’s day. I won’t delete this though because now I can add to my list of achievments for today with the item ‘Published a new blog on my website.’

It’s dark. Time to draw the curtain.

 

 

Writing a Walk

We are drawing to the end of Module Three of the How to Write a Novel course, on-line with theUnthankSchool.

I will talk more about this illuminating course later – giving away no free-bies. However, I want to show you what emerged from an exercise we were asked to do during a section of the course about settings. Obviously a vital ingredient of a novel. Stories must take place somewhere.  Remember, ‘Once upon a time, on the edge of a great dark forest, stood a cottage …’

I already had the two settings for my novel, the protagists’ home and her ‘other world’ more exciting, challenging and frightening than her normal surroundings. We have the choice not to do any of the exercises if we don’t care to, but why would I do that?

The exercise was to take a pencil and notebook outside and write stuff down. On this sunny day, I fancied a walk and, you’ll never believe this, I, the writer, had never written the real world before. Not ever. So I did. And this is what came out of my walk.

Branches draw untidy sketches across a smooth sky. The seats are patterned with raindrops, the wet grass shiny and empty, except for a crow, stalking and pecking. Few people straggle on the tarmac paths, all a darker shade of grey. Across the green, a motorbike roars its way to a house where pizza is on the lunch menu. On the near side, a tube train, released from its dark tunnel, rackets along. Only three more stations before it can rest up. A spreading puddle, turning the path into a bathing pool for pigeons, forces me to walk on ground slithery with mud and London clay.

A light breeze tickles my nose and I want to laugh, until a cyclist whizzes past, crash helmet on, prepared for a mishap even if I am not.

I cross to the other side at Fishers Lane. Fishing? Where? Or perhaps Fishmongers. When?

There’s sun on my face now but the breeze has become sharp wind. Past the once disused church, now a resurrected gospel-singers’ concert hall with a play-group hut in the garden. And here come the children, their tiny faces muffled with scarves, chattering and clinging onto a rope for safety, as innocent as Lewis Carroll’s oysters, being led across the sand by the Carpenter.

It is 1642. I am on the far side of the common, where the northern flank of the Royalist Army is facing up to troops led by Colonel John Humphrey, a parliamentarian. Canons boom, swords flash and smash. Instead of petrol fumes and the horns of irritated drivers, the air is darkened with smoke and tainted by soldiers’ oaths. But the battle is undecided as are so many of life’s conflicts.

On the way home, I walk under a tree with pink buds heralding spring and a blackbird trilling his good news.

I recommend breaking a morning’s writing with walking. And the exercise recommends the course. There’s a new one starting in May.

 

 

 

Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington, a surrealist painter, lived from 1917-2011.

Her paintings were her personal symbolism of metamorphosis, magic, the unconscious mind and dream imagery. She painted fantastical, hybrid creatures, half human, half animal, perhaps referring back to Greek myth. Her work refers to sexual identity but not as the established Surrealists did by stereotyping women as objects of male desire. Instead, she drew on her life and friendships to represent women of all ages, putting female images within male dominated environments and situations. Rings a contemporary bell?

Why am I, as a writer, interested in her?

Because reading about her, examining her life history, throws up questions which also concern writers.

Briefly, the destructive events in her life were:

Expulsion from 2 schools; The arrest of her lover Max Ernst by the Germans at the start of WWII; His abandonment of her after he escaped and fled to Spain; A nervous breakdown possibly culminating from her anxiety and delusions; Her ‘hospitalisation’ in an asylum where she received ‘convulsive therapy’ and a powerful anxiolytic drug later discredited.

On her release, she sought refuge in Mexico, recovered, wrote a novel and developed her painting. She married and had 2 sons. She died from complications arising from pneumonia.

 All of which makes us consider:

Is a solitary or a destructive life essential for creativity?

Can dreams feed into your work?

Is emotional deprivation essential?

Are you a rebellious and uncollaborative person?

Do you need the freedom to do what you want, write what you want, imagine the unimaginable, dream the impossble?

 Are you afraid of not fitting in?

As an art student, the surreal painters fascinated me. Salvador Dali hypnotised me. After a painful episode in my teenage years, I dreamt ghastly images which I transferred to paintings of a surrealist nature. They were hung in a Brixton Gallery.

I still read fairy stories. Grimm, Hans Anderson, The Red Fairy Book, The Green, The Blue etc. Carrington’s paintings would make perfect illustrations for those gruesome tales such as Bluebeard.

It has taken me years to be brave enough to allow my writing to following the magic realism path.

Did I need the freedom to write how I wanted to? Yes. Was I afraid of not fitting in? Yes.

Did I need permission to explore my deepest fears or desires? Seemed I did.

Watching a performance of Kafka’s Metamorphosis at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, I was entranced by this creature living on the ceiling. I believed.

I read Angela Carter but couldn’t ‘go there’ with her. A performance of Nights at the Circus, again at the Lyric Theatre, was pure magic. I was converted.

Did Leonora Carrington believe trauma was essential to the painter?

Since she didn’t explain her work, no one will ever know.

Is trauma essential to being a writer?

Once I’ve written my experiences on the page, I’m delivered.

 

 

 

Using Oral History

Recently I attended a workshop organised by spread the word an organisation I’ve been following since I was short-listed in one of their writing-a-novel events.

I obtained a 10% discount on the fee as I am a member of the London Writers’ Network, Spread theWord’s membership scheme. The purpose of the LWN is as an affordable community to explore and enhance the writing career and develop the professional opportunities needed to make a writing career flourish.

The workshop was held at the Whitechapel Idea Store from 10am to 4pm with a lunch break. (lunch not included). It was billed as a workshop for poets, fiction and non-fiction writers, on finding, eliciting and using oral history; to discuss how oral history differs from other forms of reporting; ethical and legal issues surrounding the use of other peoples’ ideas and words.

The leader was Laura Mitchison, Managing Director of On the Record.

The structure was fairly informal, although we were given a thick wodge of handouts. We did have good and far reaching discussions. One of the participants was a journalist which helped a lot.

Possibly, the ethical and legal issues were dealt with in enough depth but the point was made that either the Oral History Society or The Society of Authors would help with this.

Towards the end we had a ‘hot seat’ session where writers could talk about their projects and their particular problems. What was fascinating was the problem which came up most, was either a guilt of writing about others or a doubt about dealing with unexpected shocks ie someone suddenly saying that their brother had been shot dead. Necessarily, everyone had differing opinions about dealing with this, the general opinion being writers needed to devlope a thick skin.

As always with Spread the Word it was an enjoyable day, an opportunity to meet other writers and encouraged me tell myself I was a proper writer.

 

Click on spread the word in the first line to reach the website.

Too Many Irons in the Fire

Are you the busiest unpublished writer in existence?

At times it seems I could be. Like now.

I have too many projects to keep up with but I don’t want to give any of them up.

There’s this blog, for instance. Why am I late with writing a new blog? Because there’s no one sitting on my desk saying, ‘Just write the thing. Get on with it.’ At least I’ve now written and posted a new blog page.

There’s my writers’ workshop, meeting next Sunday. Unable to think of a new short story, I’ve submitted an old story which I wrote so long ago, it needs up-dating in social attitudes and trends in ‘caring’ occuaptions. My narrator’s husband now works in a ‘saving the world’ job rather than a ‘save the whale’ job. Hardly ground-breaking literary fiction. If I can’t come up with new work, should I leave the workshop? I don’t want to. I enoy it. I like the other people in it – all two of them – and we have been meeting for over eight years. This workshop is sacrosanct.

There’s my memoir. At least I have made some progress with the self-publishing project. I’ve had an initial quote from a publisher, which looks fair and do-able as far as my bank balance is concerned. Nothing else to do on that, until I go to meet the publishers at their  self-publishing event next week. Next week? I’d better get on with that list of questions I propose to ask.

There’s my collection of short stories about different kinds of death. The stories are written. They just need polishing – and a possible independent publisher identified.

Finally, there’s the on-line course on How To Write a Novel with UnthankSchool which began in January. This is definitely not a project I can abandon. It’s interesting, stimulating and jolly hard work. My plan was that the course would fire me up to rewriting a novel I started a while ago when I was younger, fitter and keener. When I thought I’d write a novel and sell it. This course is to help me achieve my heart’s desire.

So I abandon not one single project.

As Alan Bennett more or less said, ‘Writing is keeping on, keeping on.’

 

 

Child Narrators

A narrator who is fallible is usually referred to as ‘an unreliable narrator’. The term often applies to child narrators but would not always be accurate.

The term ‘the inadequate narrator’ can be used to describe a narrator who is undeniably truthful, such as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, who is entirely trustworthy, so much so that it makes for misunderstandings with other people. The term inadequate narrator is not an established critical term in spite of the fact that such voices appeared in fiction as long ago as Huckleberry Finn. The characters are often limited by their innocence or inarticulacy, as in The Colour Purple.

My WIP is a story told by a young girl about her parents’ volatile marriage and her friendship with an apparently rather odd uncle. The child is the narrator. At the moment I am undecided about her exact age. I need to establish a character whose innocence leads her to misunderstanding situations but whose interpretations and descriptions to readers leaves them in no doubt as to the parental emotions. This child also has to be brave enough to take bold steps to save her parents’ marriage.

I was uncomfortable labelling her an unreliable narrator because it is essential to the narrative that she is reliable in her observations if not in her interpretations. Readers will come to their own conclusions, as they do with Christopher.

So I was delighted when John Mullen offered me this alternative way of ‘seeing’ my narrator. A sensitive but wide-awake child, bright enough to take an interest in adult affairs but sensitive enough to worry about her mother and father. Hardly inadequate when she’s described like that but certainly not unreliable.

I award all credit for this knowledge to John Mullan’s book how novels work.

WRITING A NOVEL – Voices and Narrators

 

I’m following an on-line course run by the Unthank School on How to Write a Novel.

We are in the early stages – it’s a 12 week programme – but are already sharing the way we begin our novels, the importance of an arresting first chapter, that essential opening line – the hook.

One of the exercises, and yes, we are being made to work, not just ploughing heedlessly on with the story, is to write several first lines and then choose one of them to launch the beginning of the novel.

I find that to write even one line I need to decide the kind of narrator I want to use and his or hers individual voice. In my case the narrator is a little girl called Vicky. Immediately, I realise I’m not even sure of her age. I keep changing my mind. I must take a decision. I take the logical approach.

The back story of Vicky’s parents’ story begins in 1945, at the end of WWII, during the occupation of Italy, when they marry. Not that I am going to reveal all their story – only the scenes which matter, those that which are recounted to Vicky later. Research has told me it is unlikely they could have left Italy until 1946. The plot demands that Vicky is born in England. So let’s make her birth day in 1947.  The exact date can wait.

Further research tells me that there are at least 3 events during spring and summer in 1955 England (the scope of real-time in the novel) which could be ‘plot diving boards’. That would make Vicky 8 years old when the narrative of the novel starts. I have the voice, that of a child old enough to listen to grown-ups conversation and think it over, but young enough to misunderstand, to get it all horribly wrong. Six is too young. Ten, maybe, too old. I’ll try 8 and see how I go, how the narrative works as I write more.

Now I have to be sure what kind of narrator Vicky is. Does she tell her story in 1st person present tense, 3rd person present tense (tricky; can sound a bit writerly, all the ‘she thinks’ and ‘she says’) or 3rd person past tense. For me, slightly dull and less immediate. Children live their lives in the present so I’ll opt for 1st person, present tense. I assume Vicky is what is known as an ‘unreliable narrator’. Until I consult John Mullan’s essential book, how novels work.* And I read and read.

*Published by Oxford University Press and one of my bibles.