Today I’ve gone back to my old WordPress website! I’ve decided to rename it ‘yasminwrites‘ as that sums it up. It’s about my writing and writing in general. If you followed me before, thank you. If you didn’t, please feel free to take a chance! I’ll be posting updates on my work in progress, literature news, and forays into the joys and the challenges of writing, for pleasure or profit.
deciding if your work is progressing at all or just plain stuck
looking at how doing a Creative Writing course can be a game-changer or an expensive dead end
wondering if you need to change your writing methods or genres and how to manage that best.
That’s all for now. I’ll be updating website links and other housekeeping in the next few days. See you then!
April 2016 will be steeped in all things Shakespearean as William Shakespeare (1564–1616) died four hundred years ago and everybody is (still) talking about it. Which is good as everyone should know who Shakespeare was and what an enormous debt the modern world owe to his work. What not everyone might know is that someone so important to the English language and literature in general for his plays and poetry would only have been 52 on his death. Which seems a terribly early death for someone so very gifted and prolific.
But in our current times we have lost other gifted and prolific artists at an age that seems too young. Only this week the British writer, actor, musician and director Victoria Wood (May 19, 1953 – April 20, 2016) passed away at 62. And yesterday the singer and superstar Prince (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016) died at only 57. This is obviously very sad for their family, friends and many fans. Part of our sadness is because we can’t help but wonder what these artists might have produced if they’d lived longer. What we can still enjoy and treasure is what they made in their lifetimes and looking at the example of Shakespeare’s life, we know that the work artists, writers and musicians produce can endure long after their death.
Shakespeare understood the human condition of hope, desire and dreams. He was also well aware of how very short life is. Of course, I need to round off this slightly maudlin start with a small Shakespeare quote, it’s one of my favourites:
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Illustrated by Charles H. Buchel, 1904
The joy of writing is that you can transform sad, difficult events from our little lives into something new and positive. All the writers I’ve spoken of understood that.
It was a great evening with talks by peoplefrom Van-Dal shoes, which is celebrating 80 years. Frances & Michael Holmes did a presentation based on their book The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Tradetelling us fascinating stories and showing archive pictures from the local shoe trade over the last century.
Then Ashley Stokes from the Unthank School of Writing spoke about the creative writing courses they are running, both online or at evening classes.
Finally, the writer Rachel Hore, whose most recent novel is The House on Bellevue Gardens, will be adjudicating the prize and gave tips on what she will be looking for in the competition entries. All very useful and inspiring.
Also inspiring was getting a copy of The Cafe Writing Map in the postfrom Writing Maps. These are ‘creative writing prompts and ideas for stories’. Good fun and they currently have a 30% off Writing Maps in April!
January is traditionally a time for new things, new ideas, new starts. It makes sense to do this as it follows closing the old year and moving on. Named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions and from the from the Latin word, ianua, which means ‘door’, this is the door to the new year! So why am I writing this almost half-way through the month? It might be because the start of the year is always very distracting after the end of year celebrations and holidays. It might be because I dislike following the crowd with publicising new year resolutions that could soon be broken. It’s also tricky until you know how plans from the previous year have done, so you can definitely feel like a true Janus figure with one head looking back while the other looks forward.
I was (and still am) waiting for the results from some short story submissions. One got longlisted, which was great! But didn’t win, which was less great… However, as any writer/artist knows you have to get used to knock backs and still keep trying. There are websites for dejected writers devoted to this sort of thing, but I take the old fashioned view of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. All you need to remember is that every writer, from Agatha Christie to Stephen King, had numerous rejections, but still kept writing.
I used to read a lot of Agatha Christie (1890-1976) but not much recently. However, over Christmas the BBC did a fantastic adaptation of ‘And then there were none’ (BBC 2015) and it reminded me what great plots and interesting, believable characters Christie created and how wonderful the BBC is at making adaptations of novels http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06v2v52
I always liked Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot because they weren’t hard boiled cops or jaded investigators trying to solve a murder. Instead they were unusual (an older Belgian and a much older English lady) and as such slightly humorous as people underestimated their abilities, which were exceptional. I hadn’t read ‘And then there were none’ before, it has had different names over the years (some more insulting than others). There is no central detective character like Marple or Poirot, instead there is a range of ten people on an island, each wondering who the murderer is. In the story the reader (or viewer) will have to decide which of these people are likeable and trustworthy and those who are clearly not. This was Christie’s great talent for getting readers to make assumptions about the characters (which are often proved to be false) and putting in red herrings to keep us off the scent. One thing I hadn’t previously known was her education in pharmacy which helped her attend to patients in the First World War and also gave her knowledge of poisons for her stories. Perhaps it is this specialised knowledge that gives her stories an extra veneer of reality and makes the endings more satisfactory for the reader.
If you want to find out more about wonderful Agatha this website is a good resource: http://www.agathachristie.com/
On the last day of November the weather has gone to rain and wind. Good weather for hunkering indoors and reading and writing.
It got me thinking about all this year’s literary prizes (and there were a lot) and how some of the results of those prizes won’t be known until 2016. Writing for competitions requires a lot of hope and patience.
The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting http://www.writeaplay.co.uk/ was won this year by Katherine Soper. When I read about this one phrase stuck in my mind, the winning play was described as ‘written by a shop girl’. Obviously you wonder why they didn’t just call her a ‘writer’ as that’s clearly what she is. And the words ‘shop girl’ sounded slightly pejorative, as if working in a shop was bad. But it’s also funny! Lots of writers have worked in shops, some still do, and then I remembered reading about another playwright who was also referred to as “Shop Girl Writes Play” by a newspaper after she won a prize. That writer was Dodie Smith (Dorothy Gladys Smith, 1896-1990) and she was working at Heals in 1931. Before she started writing novels, Dodie Smith wrote plays. She had worked in the theatre so writing plays would have seemed a natural progression.
Most people will know of Dodie’s first novel I Capture the Castle published in 1948, which has that famous and brilliant first line, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” After that the rest of the book has a lot to live up to and fortunately doesn’t disappoint. It’s such a wonderfully funny, bittersweet love letter to growing up, writing and England. The 2003 film version with Romola Garai as the narrator, Cassandra, definitely does the book justice.
Dodie’s other famous work was the children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) which was apparently inspired by a friend’s comment about Dodie’s own beloved dalmatians “Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat!”
It’s another well observed book and mixes humour and fear brilliantly. Cruella de Vil is terrifying, but also a great (if unintentional) anti-fur ambassador. Who would want to be like her?
Dodie spent all her life writing and if it wasn’t books or plays, it was letters to friends or her diary. She was a full-on full-time writer and a wonderful inspiration to anyone who’s ever worked in a shop and dreamed of be able to write professionally.
If you want to know the full story about Dodie get hold of Valerie Grove’s biography Dear Dodie: The Life of Dodie Smith
November has sneaked up and closed the curtains. The clocks have changed, but the evenings are still drawing in. Halloween has been and gone and bonfire night too and that’s just in the first week. All a bit spooky and dark and fitting then that 7 November is the birth date of Albert Camus (1913-1960) philosopher, journalist and writer of L’Étranger, often translated as The Outsider (1942). He also wrote other novels, short stories and non-fiction. He was famous for his theories on the Absurdist School of Thought and stated that ‘individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning’. More on Camus here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/camus/
As most writers will know, November is also National Novel Writing Month or ‘NaNoWrimo’. I always forget the acronym, which isn’t a good start if you’re hoping to actually do the challenge, and it is a challenge! The idea is that you write around 50,000 words in the month of November, which translates as writing quite a lot of words every day (almost a couple of thousand). Or doing what I would do, which would be prevaricating for the first three weeks and then trying to catch up. But that’s just me, LOTS of people love nanowrimo and say that even if the final result is a massive editing challenge, it makes you focus on just writing, which is what every writer should try to do. So good luck to all you nanowrimoers (made up word?). If anyone wants to know more look at the official website: http://nanowrimo.org/
Recognising that I will not be doing the Nanowrimo challenge this year, I am focussing instead on sending out short stories, finding fun little competitions like ‘Less than 100 words’ which is online at http://www.lessthan100words.com/, doing research for my novel and connecting with local writers, like those at the wonderful Norwich Writers’ Circle https://norwichwriters.wordpress.com/
I also received today the latest issue of ‘Short fiction journal’ http://www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk/ This is a high quality publication in association with Plymouth University. Full of short stories, translations and art and published every autumn. Submissions are open now until December 31st, details on their website.
If you have also decided not to do nanowrimo but still want to get that novel written you could turn any month into an ‘every day is a writing day’ month (absurdist acronym still to be decided) and there are website communities available that fit this need. Personally, I am quite tempted by this one: http://750words.com/ It’s online and private, so not open to the general public, but it still allows you to track how well you’re doing with your word counts.
October is the birth month of Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) a modernist short story writer born to a socially prominent family in New Zealand. Her real name was Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp and it is telling that she chose to change her name and rid herself of some of the upper class trappings of the family to which she was born when she moved away from home and went about getting her stories published.
She travelled around continental Europe and lived for long periods of time in London, being part of the bohemian set there. She was friends with D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf and Woolf wrote in her diary: “I was jealous of her writing—the only writing I have ever been jealous of.”
Throughout all this she followed the ‘modern’ path of living her life as she saw fit. Like many artists and creative people in the new century, she wanted to lose the oppressive old Victorian rules about sex and had numerous affairs with both men and women (scandalising her mother back in New Zealand) and used the experiences in some of her stories. She also had two marriages, the first was a mistake and the second was to John Middleton Murry, an Oxford graduate, writer and editor of literary magazines.
Her greatest loss was the death of her much-loved brother, Leslie Heron “Chummie” Beauchamp in the First World War. It was for him that she wanted to write about their happy childhood together in New Zealand. She suffered from ongoing illnesses and as her health was so precarious she tried to write as much as she could in the years before she succumbed to tuberculosis when 34.
This is a short, scrappy run-down of Mansfield’s rich but all too brief life. The reality was far more complicated, interesting and, at times, contentious. The most important thing to know about Mansfield is that she wrote exceptional short stories! And if you don’t know her work then go and find one of her story collections. Middleton Murry ensured her work, fiction and non-fiction, was published after her death.
If you want to know more about Mansfield’s life check out Claire Tomalin’s biography of Katherine:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is 150 years old this year. Published in 1865 by Macmillan, the author was Charles L. Dodgson (1832-1898).
Dodgson was allowed to use his pen name of Lewis Carroll and alternative names for the book like ‘Alice Among the Fairies, and ‘Alice’s Golden Hour’ were binned. In its 150 years Alice has been reimagined many times in plays, musicals, films and simplified picture books. Part of the story’s appeal must be down to not just the wonderful writing by Carroll, but the glorious pictures.
The artist was John Tenniel (1820-1914). He was already well known in his time for his illustrations for Punch, a political magazine. Carroll had admired his pictures of animals in a version of Aesop’s fables and with the high animal count in Alice Tenniel was an obvious choice of artist.
For Alice all Tenniel’s paper drawings had to be carved into woodblocks by engravers, which were then used as masters to create electrotype copies in metal. This was a new process, but it transformed how things could were printed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrotyping Electrotype ensured printing of the books was quicker and more precise and this was a good thing as the book was very popular right from the start and the entire first print run sold out.
The book was and still is popular with both children and adults (Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria were fans) because of its humour, fantasy and clever wordplay. It marked a change in children’s books by allowing fun and silliness rather than just teaching reading or moral instruction.
A new stage adaption this year is the musical wonder.land where the story is based in the internet, the ultimate rabbit hole leading to all manner of wonders and dangers. With book and lyrics by Moira Buffini and music by Damon Albarn this is currently playing at the National Theatre in London. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/wonder.land
There have already been lots of events this year celebrating 150 years of Alice and I’m hoping tea parties formed part of that. If you missed them and feel left out make some tea and invite some interesting characters round (animal and human). Mad Hats are of course necessary. And see the 2010 film by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter for inspiration.
Oh, and don’t forget to read the original book as well…
If you work in publishing or at a bookshop you will already know about the shortlist and have seen tables piled up with the six shortlisted books. For everyone else, it depends on whether you read books and if you do how much you know or care about big literary prizes. I’ll assume you have a passing interest…
The Booker (no one I know would call it the ‘Man Booker’ as the ‘Man’ sponsor was only added in 2002) is seen as equivalent to the Oscars in terms of sales and prestige. Despite this the prize has always been followed by controversy, which I would suggest is the same with the Oscars. Booker judges have been accused of choosing a bad winner, having a conflict of interests (e.g. being in a relationship with an author?) or always choosing men (since the prize started in 1969, 30 men and 16 women have won the prize). It’s probably getting better as Hilary Mantel has won twice!
I have to admit that I haven’t read loads of the Booker Prize novels, but one that I have read is the 1978 winner, Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s set in the 1960’s and is about a group of people living in riverboats on the Thames. The selection of Fitzgerald’s book as a Booker winner was criticised at the time as the novel is fairly short and the story is concentrated on domestic issues like family life, relationships, outsiders and how poverty can decide whether you sink or swim. I found it wonderful, a great evocation of the times and often very funny. I also love the fact it’s partially based on her own life with her two young daughters on a barge that sank!
When I think of the name ‘Marx’ two things come to mind – The Marx Brothers and Karl Marx. Both are interesting in their own ways, but I had never heard of Enid Marx (1902-1998) until we visited the Compton Verney Art Gallery in the summer holidays. She was an English painter, designer, children’s book writer and, yes, a distant cousin of Karl Marx. Her work is wonderful and inspiring. She did lots of printing and had a passion for patterns. I love the fact that she designed the seat covers (mocquette fabric) for London buses and tube trains in 1930’s.
Anyone who has ever used the London Underground and been charmed (or otherwise) by the patterns on their seats will know the names of different stations conjure up ideas and stories, even if you never actually get off at that station. TubeFlash is an interesting website based on flash fiction for different London stations. You can submit your own 300 word story (check the conditions first) or just read some of the ones already published on http://www.tubeflash.co.uk/ It’s a fun project.
Vivian Maier worked as a nanny in America, but her real work was photography. She took photographs everywhere (often when walking the children she was looking after) and kept the negatives. She had a few printed, but never made money from her photography. Which is a shame as after her death her negatives were discovered, printed up and displayed. Now her work is hailed as wonderful examples of street photography and reportage on the everyday and the overlooked. Check her out on: http://www.vivianmaier.com/
For writers I think her photographs are so interesting and evocative they beg for a story to be written about them! I will definitely be looking at them for inspiration for my next competition story: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/our-projects/the-short-story/ The Commonwealth Writers Short Story Competition is always good and FREE to enter.
As we’re now in September, it really is ‘back to school’ in concentrating on writing projects. Always have to be working on something!