Sunday, 26 January 2014

I write short things

Writing holds many challenges, but lately I have mostly just been trying to make things shorter. I wrote a short story that came out over 8,000 words, and then discovered that to enter it for competitions and collections, it needed to be 5,000 words or under. I whipped out my editorial scalpel and set to work. I wrote a synopsis of 813 words for my novel to enter it for a competition, but then found that for another competition, I needed to shorten it to 300 words. Having just completed that task, ruthlessly chopping out anything extraneous, I feel editorially invincible. From force of habit, I am already mentally reducing the contents of this paragraph into something more concise: I write short things.

To be honest, it is nice to feel I’m skilled at something, as rejections have been trickling in following my attempt to get some writing credits to my name – rejections and prolonged, discouraging silences. Sigh. Moment’s self-pity, followed by self-imposed pep talk – onwards! Improve! Persevere! Have faith!

Ah well, if all else fails, I could start a business taking in people’s novels and editing them down into tweets.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

In Which I Have More Fun, read Gillian Flynn and Ponder Women Writers and the Dark Side of Life

Courtesy of

A belated Happy New Year to anyone reading this! My resolution this year is one of my best ever and comprises only 3 words: 

Have More Fun! 

Last year was full of hard work, determination and effort as I dealt with:

1) My job being busy,
2) A new steely resolve to get my novel published
3) My husband’s depression and
4) Economising to cope with new financial constraints.

 It was all work and no play, and Sophie became a dull girl. This year is going to be different, with having fun a day-to-day priority. Because it’s me, the fun has to be diligently researched and sought out, with plenty of soul-searching to ascertain whether or not fun is being had at any given moment...

I began the year by booking tickets for a comedy cafe in a couple of weeks, and theatre tickets to see Warhorse in April (OK so that may involve tears rather than hilarity, but I do enjoy a good cry). We have rediscovered games we used to play but have stopped since our children grew up, and best of all, our dining room table now doubles as a table tennis table, with frequent games being played. Even the cat joins in when she can be bothered. I have made a point of having a chat and a laugh with colleagues over lunch whenever possible instead of slinking back to my desk, and have instigated trips out for coffee with people I love talking to but haven’t been making the time to see. On Friday Jon and I went to see a band a friend is in, and chatted and danced until late. Always diligent with my exercise, I have bought a dance exercise DVD to mix things up and add a bit of fun to that side of life (running in freezing, horizontal rain sometimes falls short of the ‘funometer’ minimum mark). I had a go yesterday and although I was hilariously unable to keep up with some of the quick-changing moves (I swear this is a brain reaction time issue rather than fitness!), it was - well, fun! It isn’t necessarily the activities chosen that matter, and not every outing is a success, but making fun a daily priority has changed my outlook for the better.

In the meantime, writing has been happening. I finished a short story over Christmas about an attractive, successful but insecure woman who meets a homeless girl. Both pregnant, they end up side by side in the maternity ward, but the homeless girl has a dream birth and a beautiful baby, whereas everything goes wrong for the heroine and her baby is not what she expected at all. I have sent it out to some magazines and competitions, so we’ll see. I am now reworking the beginning of my novel, Unspeakable Things, ready to send it out to more competitions and agents.

 I have also been reading Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl and then Dark Places. Both are incredibly compelling, with twists, turns and outcomes you just don’t see coming. This is clever thriller writing, playing with the reader’s tendency to try to second-guess the next step all along the way. Although we have to suspend our disbelief at times, particularly as the plot advances towards a conclusion in both stories, we forgive this as readers because the wondering, guessing and stunning revelations are so compelling and so enjoyable.

Flynn’s women characters are fascinating too, and I was interested to see her quoted in a Mslexia article by Celia Brayfield, Dark Matters, about expectations of women writers and the trend towards ‘sugar and spice’. Flynn wrote: ‘... the one thing that really frustrates me is that idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big pushback against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish.’

Celia Brayfield notes: ‘In modern popular fiction for women the all-things-nice injunction seems to be taken literally in many cases. Chocolate shops, cup-cake bakeries and shopping – preferably for shoes or in a vintage department store – are in vogue... They’re given covers decorated with bows and polka-dots in colours otherwise found on My Little Pony toys...’

As a writer fascinated by the dark side of life, I have often noticed people’s surprise when I tell them what I write about, but then I was never the sugar and spice type, even as a little girl, and felt for a long time that boys had more fun. I was relieved to discover, growing up, that life was a lot more complex and full of possibilities  than the ‘What are little girls made of?’ poem allowed. 

Do discover Mslexia for yourself if you are interested in women’s writing – it is a gold mine of information, encouragement and inspiration.