Monday, 28 February 2011

Reading with my own novel rewrite in mind

Just finished reading Black Moor - and interesting novel and a good read - by Edward Hogan.It has some lovely prose in very many places, an original plot idea and I found it a complete page turner. I did not like what I saw as the intrusion of an omniscient narrator which seemed to cut in alot towards the end of the story. It took me away from the former excellent close observation and the characters therefore also.If anything I wanted to feel even closer to the boy Vincent by the end of the book.This is why I am planning to use first person POV for my protaganist at the climax of my novel. Perhaps Mr Hogan intended his omniscience for effect, a kind of overview summing up of the way things have turned out for all of his characters - especially Vincent- at the conclusion of the story but for me it didnt work well. Perhaps he is using the POV shift as signal to the story's ending.Also some of the dialogue - especialy between the boy Vincent and his 'girlfriend' Leila didnt feel authentic. So - in summary -a good novel but also pointers to note for when I begin the rewrite of my own.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Its not like constructing a 'dot -to-dot'

I had a really positive tutorial yesterday with Emma , my writing mentor and the feedback on the new material I was feeling so jittery about was excellent on the whole - it seems I have pulled it off in the scenes Ive written where I am showing a different side to my protagonists personality. I have made him more active and also moved the relationship between him and his lover up a notch- now they see each other as "a couple". We talked about the doing process - how you have to write to uncover things and that you can't just always predetermine in a novel. Its not like contructing a 'dot-to-dot'! I had a wonderful 'uncovering' during the last piece I wrote, basically about a plot thread. Previously I had a plot thread but it seemed too obvious and I didnt feel it was somehow right, though I had no idea about how it really ought to be. Then, when I was writing the last piece the new thread idea just emerged - it was like hatching, as I wrote I simply had the realisation of the new plot thread and I just knew it work brilliantly. When I put it to my mentor she agreed. So - some very good work done over the last couple of weeks.

I have decided to hold off from begining the re write until I return to London and after my next tutorial on 30th March. Until then I will continue to just write, explore the story and see what turns up.

I desperately need a haircut and have spotted a place but I dont know what I'll end up looking like. Atleast , finally, I managed to locate a place which is not a unisex.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Reflecting on where I'm at

A writer friend of mine who did the same graduate London City University Certificate in Novel Writing course as I did last year has been commenting on his blog about the dilema which must face all novelists - especially novice ones.Essentially the question he raises is - how do you balance the need for constant refinement of the material you are producing with keeping to a time frame in order that you can see an end point and the novel completed. I got to bed very late last night after dancing on the roof of an old apartment building at a queer tango practica and when I got in had difficulty getting to sleep, so have been musing on this isssue raised by Mike Clark on his blog.

I think that the readings we gve to literary agent/industry profesional at the end of our course WERE DEFINATELY a good idea, for me, atleast. The fact that I had interest from four agents and that I went to see one and they allowed me to talk freely through my ideas for the book- acknowledging that it was no where near ready at that stage to show more – I found inspiring. It’s no garuantee of course that publication will follow but the fact that I know the story I am writing is of interest to someone who doesnt otherwise know me has been a great kick start. The situation of having agents who have told me “send it to me” when its completed has spurred me on.I have printed off the email from each agent and put these up on my white board at home. Similarly emails from a couple of writers from my local writers group who are published novelists already and have made nice, encouraging comments about the qualities they see/like in my work.These are carrots have to dangle all the time and especially when I feel the task before me is insurmountable. The road which Mike describes I know well ; it is a hard slog , a balance between constant refinement and achieving a satisfactory end product. I believe that its important to be able to visualise the end of the process in order to succesfully move toward it. Having the agents waiting is a good motivator but also setting a structure within which to work is equally important to me. The targets I set do move as the novel evolves but the end is now clearly in sight and I know where I am going and by when. If you do not set a time frame to complete then it will make things harder.
The monthly check in with Emma/ my mentor is proving invaluable. She sees almost everything new I am writing and discusses with me the stage I’m at, encourages me to linger or leave and move on. And my writing has got better with this constant practice and challenge.
Sometimes I have found the presure of it extremely weighty – thats why I write scenes/chapters in sections and not in any start to finish order. Every now and then I look at the bigger picture and where things should all go, what needs to change , what further work needs doing and what new research I need to undertake. But once you have this thing in you, it just has to be let out in its entirety – and – Mike I certainly get this sense from you too about Kim et al in your novel The Angel. So make a plan, keep going – even if the plan changes – set yourself a time frame, even if you have to reset the clock occaisionally. And give yourself a break sometimes – read, do something else for a few days. The story of ones novel is always there and when the time is right will resurface and cry out for you to begin again the telling of it.
Bren Gosling

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Just completed a new chapter

The dictation when I read it was 40 minutes so I guess its a longish chapter. It was hard work.Seven hours of writing over two days. I dont know if it does what I want - if Emma gets in in time for Wednesdays tutorial I'll get feedback. The chapter comprises of three scenes in diferent locations and what I hope I'm showing is a realisation in one character that actually he is in love with the other character and sees the two of them as "a couple" for the first time( its been sex, then an affair up 'til now). The scene takes place on the weekend prior to the Queens Golden Jubilee weekend in the summer of 2002 in Wathamstow. Its the weekend before the principal character's(in whose POV this chapter is shown- well - close thrid person) 36th birthday. He's thinking back to memories of the 1977 Silver Jubilee(WHEN HE WAS 10) at one point,prompted by recent memories of a photgraph in an album cleared by him and his sister from their recently deceased mothers house.

Did an hour of yoga immediately after this and have just finished a delicious home cooked lunch of pan fried trout, rice and ratatue. Resting now before tango later.H away traveling to Bolivia and Chile since Wednesday. No skype contact and already I am missing him dreadfully.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The concept of Pychic distance - Emma Darwin

This very helpful blog post from Emma Darwin is useful for a writer like me who is writing a novel primarily in close third person POV, in mutliple POV's - especially the rule of not shifting directly across from a level 5 in one characters POV to a level 5 in the other characters POV - this is likely to jar/confuse the reader..better to slowly do it by moving down from a 5 to a 1 or 2 and then creeping up to a 5 again in the other characters POV(if shifting POV within one scene or chapter). I am now doing this sometimes to heighten my readers "hunger"to read on, rather than just have whole scenes/chapters in one POV only - although this is mostly what I am doing.

Psychic Distance: what it is and how to use it
Psychic distance is a concept which John Gardner explores in his book The Art of Fiction, and I think it's absolutely crucial, not difficult to understand, and not nearly talked about enough. Basically, it's about where the narrative (and therefore the reader) stands, relative to a character. Another way of thinking of it is how far the reader is taken inside the character's head. Gardner breaks it down thus:
1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3. Henry hated snowstorms.
4. God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul
Obviously it's really a spectrum, not separate stages, but you can see what this is about, can't you?
1) is remote and objective. It has a nice 'Once upon a time' feel to it but doesn't give us any sense of the man as a person with thoughts and feelings: a consciousness. It tells us a lot about where we are and what's happening, but if it stays at this level we might not care much about this person, and it limits the writer's scope for exploring how he experiences the world and himself.
5) is tight close-up and subjective. It's very much in his voice, and it's extremely expressive of this person's character and situation. But it doesn't give us any information about where we are, who this is, and so on. We empathise with how he feels, but if we stay at this level we may never understand what's going on, and it limits the writer's scope for bringing in other characters and their consciousness.
And 2-4 are various stages in between. Gardner's point is not that one is better than the other, or that you have to stick to only one. Indeed, it would be a mistake if you did, because it can make the piece very monotonous, specially if you stick at the 1-2 end. Just as good novels have a rhythm of action and reflection, so they have a rhythm of intimacy and distance. So I've extended Gardner's concept to think in terms of the psychic range of a piece, from the closest to the furthest that it covers.
It's not only important to know (roughly) what the psychic distance is at any one point, but also to understand the possibilities of the different distances, to control the reader's involvement with the character and the story.It's also intimately connected with Showing and Telling, which I've blogged about here.
It's also helpful to bear in mind that jumping straight from, say, 1 to 5, may risk leaving the reader behind: there'd be nothing to tell you that the man we were shown stepping from a doorway is the same as this person with snow down his (her?) neck. Competent readers may make the assumption, but everything they read till their assumption is confirmed is, as it were, provisional, and means they can't be so involved with the story. Other readers, not being sure where they are, may give up any involvement at all. It usually works better to work your way by stages from, say, 1 to 5, making sure the reader comes with you through at least some intermediate stages.
Understanding psychic distance is also the key to working with a moving point of view. It's obvious that even if you limit your narrative to a single point of view, how far inside your character's head you take the reader will vary. If your third-person narrative moves between several points-of-view within a chapter, say, then you have to start coping with the transitions. Many beginner writers are guilty of of 'head-hopping', which is switching points-of-view too often and too abruptly. But it's not necessarily that the transitions happen too often (though it may be, and some teachers and editors are very doctrinaire about it), but that you haven't handled them properly. Handle them properly, and you'll find that said teachers and editors may not even notice, let alone disapprove.
I'm working on point-of-view for another page in this Resources section but, put simply, if the reader is deep inside someone's head, then teleporting us to deep inside someone else's is going to be a wrench for us. Not only will we suffer the literary equivalent of jetlag, but we may simply get confused about who's doing, say, this 5-ish kind of thinking. And readers who feel wrenched from a character they were living inside lose their involvement, as do readers who get confused. The feeble tutor/editor's answer is not to switch viewpoint characters, but when did the fact that something's hard to do well mean one shouldn't do it? The key is to move us slowly, by Gardner's stages, out - 5-4-3-2-1 - of one character, and in - 1-2-3-4-5 - to the next. Or something like that: obviously it's much more fluid, and you need to listen to your instincts about how and how fast to move. But that's the idea.
Next time you're reading some fiction, have a look at how the author handles psychic distance: what range they use, and how and why s/he shifts betwen different stages. Have a think about how that affects the way you experience the piece. If it's told from more than one point-of-view, how do the transitions that interact with the psychic distance? And if you want an example of a lovely story which is pure 5, Jane Gardam's 'The Great, Grand Soap-Water Kick', in her collection The Sidmouth Letters, is pure joy. But it's not an easy trick to pull off.

Monday, 14 February 2011

completed a new scene

yesterday evenning and edited it this morning. I have been looking at another blog - Aspiring Novelist Diary-"Sam" is doing a PhD route to her first novel. I was interested in her post about using the Grid template that Emma Darwin recommends as a tool for structuring a novel. I am going to utilise this I think to approach my redraft when I'm ready.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

tango paranoia

returned to me last night. Ive been out quite alot and danced.most dances have been o.k. but I havent yet had any moments of it feeling really good. Even when you do dance this place (Buenos Aires) seems so precious and up its own arse - the tango scene is very close knit and difficult to penetrate , enough to make an outsider squirm each time he puts foot onto the dance floor.I am going to start writing again today - if I can stay awake for long enough.

Although Ive not been writing for a week I have been making notes on character and setting for short story ideas (about Buenos Aires)...mostly Ive been doing this in cafe's when Ive been having lunch on my own. It is very tempting to commit to writing a new short story or two. Of course this genre has different kinds of challenges but you do see an end result fairly swiftly and I find the process very satisfying. Like dancing tango if you dont often get to feel good about your writing even now and again your self belief system can get badly messed up. A few people have been asking me about my writing here, "oh, you write!"( yes, I write) - ..."what do you write about" (fiction, what ever takes hold of my interest, I've written short stories in the main but am trying to finish my first novel at the moment). The word 'novel' almost always triggers the enquiry" Are you famous?"(no, I'm not famous - I only began to write 3 years ago) ..."agh - so what's your novel about then?"(Nothing to do with Buenos Aires - its about an immigrant from Kosovo who gets a job as a street sweeper in London and tries to build a new life but his past comes back to haunt him, basically...)"Oh. Interesting"...(at this point the conversation sometimes concludes but sometimes it does continue and we talk about writing, ; the Aladdins cave-like book shops here,South American writers - some of whom Ive not heard of. I shared a cab back from the tango class yesterday in Abasto with a local psychoanalyst who - like me - is frustrated by tango dancing and we got talking - during our fifteen minutes in the back of that cab - about the creative process, Borges, Allende and Lorca( whom she had notheard of - even when I mentioned 'Blood Wedding').I said how wonderfuly poetic some of the lyrics are in tango - especially the early tango, from the 1930's and early 40's) and how I wish I understood more spannish. We exchanged email addresses.


Friday, 11 February 2011

Last night MUCH better my second milonga class and I really enjoyed it. Another student commented on the different "style" he'd been shown in another class earlier that day- and so its clear that the Porteneos are just out to confuse!
Been reading Blackmoor by Edmund Hogan - on Emma's recommendation - mostly for the close observation and sense of place(similar approach to to own novel) - It shifts POV a fair bit and also uses omniscience and second person POV ...but this does work here I think -and its a good(if perhaps not great) yarn. Before this I read James Baldwins Giovannis Room - much more literary in style and very period(Paris early 1960's) - apart from the 'intrusion' of French dialogue which was mostly beyond me - I think this is - indeed- a classic short novel, which I very much enjoyed. The characters and their psyche's are especially well developed. Again useful for my novel. Have not written at all since last week end - by intention. May start up again over the weekend. I want to let things brew.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Tango travails

Had a difficult start to tango this week which sent me into a mini depression. At the Practica on Monday I couldnt lead 3 women in a row...not properly...and it got very frustrating because the teacher was trying to work out why and I couldnt understand. The style he is teaching seemed a variant of what I know/am learning. I left feeling very inadequate and downtrodden. Tuesday evenning wasnt much better -I went to my usual class at Salon Canning with Javier and Monica - v good teachers, friendly class but all in spannish and so many beginners - I felt I was not really able to practice what I know as beginners dont know what to do I have to keep it simple - which is ok up to a point. After a rest and dinner I went to Tango Queer - meet M as arranged - had one tanda with the Swede I meet rcently at La Marshall - then M told me he'd been ordered to leave immediately by his ex - who runs virtually the entire queer tango scene here ...lovers hate/jealousy ! But so petty(apparantly they split 18 months ago and are both with other partners now, so I dont see the problem). I did stay but didnt enjoy myself as the dances I had werent very satisfactory - though not my fault .I came away feeling it was all my fault, that I will never get the hang of this or break into the local scene. M is a very good dancer/follower and a real pleasure to dance with and I was looking forward to progressing by having the chance to practice with him twice a week - now it will only possible when he is out of his Almighty ex's range- which is on Sundays at El Monita(the only other milonga where men can dance with other men, though its not a gay milonga)_. Tango can really get to you - make to feel as high as heaven or as low as so you feel almost suicidal when things arent going right. My teacher has been great and offered 'tango counselling' along with the teaching and hopefuly I will overcome all of this tango scene paranoia. Its hard. A friend in London is having similar issues there and I have just been trying to persuade her not to give up. I have to keep on going - tango is like a class A drug - once its taken hold of you, youve had it...!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Maybe I'll wait a bit

write some more scenes - take a set back for a few more weeks. I think thats best.

I am ready to begin the redraft but, oh...

its like I am sitting my finals again ...if I bit my nails there'd be none left by now...its just that initial picking up the pen and going back from the beginning again..I really want to do it, it just seems hugely daunting.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Its odd being fiftytwo

Half way almost through this 3 month trip to Buenos Aires and have been reflecting on the water under the bridge since I last did a 3 month trip away. That was 20 odd years ago 1990. I had just finished my M.A. degree in Social Policy and Research and remember finishing off my dissertation at Brisbane airport and posting it back to the UK for typing up. H hand delivered it a few weeks later - no email or skype back then. But that trip - which I did completely alone, taking unpaid leave of absence from my job as an OT with Tower Hamlets social services, was amazing and life altering. I spend most of it hiking in Australia and New Zealand. I fell in love with New Zealand and its natural beauty and a year after I got back returned as a Polytechnic Lecturer to Otago for 12 months. Here I am two decades later - and my life has taken different turns and twists. Ill health and bereavement led me to begin writing creative fiction(I lost my mum, two friends and then my best friend Uschi all within 3 years when I myself was housebound with CFS/M.E. - a terible time when I was hardly able to walk let alone dance tango). Being 52 feels odd compared to being 32 but it still feels good to be here.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Is more, less?

...when it comes to writing intense emotion between characters. I hope that it maybe so, atleast sometimes. I have just spent the best part of 7 hours over 2 days writing one very tricky scene - staring at the page and thinking about what my character/s are thinking, going over and over and over it until I feel I've captured what it is they are feeling.Writing and re writing as I go. Atempting to show and infer (by leaving out more than perhaps I leave in sometimes)a shift in the intensity of emotion between the two of them and, therby a shift in the nature of their relationship which has hither to just been about sex and playing sport together.

Its been a slow day really, after my morning writing session and lunch cooked by H we went to the Museum of Decorative Arts - which I found mostly rather tedious. The humidity of the afternoon made me feel very flat and irritable. I was thinking all the time about how I might progress and conclude the chapter I was working on. We sat in the Square infront of the cemetery in Recoleta, under an ancient rubber tree whose branches were propted by iron stays, eating ice cream and fending off beggars and hawkers of one kind or another.Then came back to the flat where I had a nap before starting my evenning writing session. Pleased to announce FINISHED THE CHAPTER. Made a quick salad and ate it watching a clip video on my notebook of our friend Claire being inaugurated into the House of Lords. Sent her a congratulatory email. Going out for hot chocolate and cake now. Tomorrow the tango routine begins another week at 10pm when I go off to practice at El Monito with Miguel. Want to start a new chapter tomorrow if I can.


Friday, 4 February 2011

How plot changes

I looked at my original synopsis from 12 months ago and although the core story is still there, intact, gone is the opening melodrama of a major street accident involving a baby,gone is the Trudie character and her brutal mugging and Julie has a much lesser role/prominence. I deleted the original synopsis from this blog because I think it also told too much. Its interesting now to look back on how far I have come in the process of devloping the characters and plot. The characters I now know much better and much of the story is about close observation of their relationships with each other and the world rather than a heavy reliance on melodrama. The characters drive the plot and not the other way round.The original first chapter has gone completely and a new one wriiten but only a few months ago - entirely different from the original.I feel this is much stronger. Goes to show you dont really know your novel until you are in deep.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

on keeping it real and being fumigated

Having begun my other new chapter about showing a kinder, caring side to my protagonist Almir - so that his lover Roland sees something more in him and is drawn deeper into their relationship inspite of Almir's other shortcommings - I thought I had better seek further advice. After all I am making it up as I go along, more or less. Would a traumatised war veteran be able to show this other side to his personality - and in the way I am writing it/ I mean - I think so but...SO...I have contacted my psychiatrist friend for another character behaviour profile check in on Almir. She is writing her first novel too - partly set in Buenos Aires - so I may have to be her research agent by return. My other friend(NOT a writer of fiction)- I just skyped to chase him on my required contact with the U.N - to do more research about witnes protection in Kosovo a decade ago at the end of the war there)... says he is on the case but "had to fly because about to interview the head of war in Afganistan">>>well, I have the best possible links dont I!

Went to Tango Queer last night..met Miguel again who is back from his hols with his boyfriend....also danced with a Swede I meet last week at La Marshall, who complimented me on my lead and musicality - a real boost - stayed till it closed at about 2.30am. When I got back to the flat my landlord had bolted the door from the inside so I couldnt get in...OMG! Eventually I managed to rouse him and was let in and he apologised. Neither H or I slept last night and today, the icing on the cake, our apartment is being fumigated.