Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?

The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life

Zadie Smith

Why am I writing THIS novel? Why am I writing it NOW?

We need to get to the root of my story…..

Is this story actually my truth?

Does it successfully and eloquently articulate the struggles,? The questions? The confusions of life? Does it ask and try to answer the BIG quandries?

Life eh – There’s no weekly email newsletter we can subscribe to which might act as a handbook – no roadmap to steer us from young to old.

We have to work this shit out ourselves.

If we’re lucky enough to meet someone who gives us the courage to tackle the questions, then that makes for a golden life.

It took me 47 years. And 8 years later it is still getting more golden by the day.

We’ve been married for 7 of those years – I have whatever is the opposite of a 7 year itch.

May 16th 2015

7 Years today, if you’re reading this, er, TODAY! (May 16th)

Yes, we’re celebrating the best 7 years of my life. Nicky truly has asked me over and over, “why shouldn’t people like ‘us’ chase our dreams?”

And so I write.

I’m getting much better at writing a shit sentence. I am allowing myself simply get the thoughts out of my head. Releasing them it into the physical world makes them real. My story needs to be a presence – a sentence may be shit, and I might cringe as I write it, but once typed, it is there ready to be edited.

You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult

So, my book.

What book? The one I affectionately nick name DTDLLTO (working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners). My first book, my first novel, my first attempt to tell the truth and have the conviction to carry it through.

I was stuttering with it, but this year, particularly with my new gung ho draft zero approach, it has started to flow from me.

I needed the freedom, the freedom to choose to look inside myself, to find the truths of who I am.

I give myself permission to write it.

What are my truths? What are my stories? Who should be telling my truths and who has the authority to narrate my stories? Well, I’m finding out…..

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

Maya Angelou

Traps I’m trying to avoid – creating a character in the shadow of me. I started taking all of the parts of my life where I believe I am morally right and getting my character to ‘virtue signal’ through their behaviour.

As Brad Listi says, the reader will spot the puppet strings pretty quickly. It’s bullshit anyway, nobody is that morally pure!

Who am I writing the book for?

Does it even need readers? Am I the author and the reader? Are you the reader? One tip I’ve heard is to imagine how different the story would be if it was read allowed to my mum, or my boss, or my best friend, or YOU! It’s a great exercise in finding the right voice.

In the first draft, everything seems to be all too obvious. It is in no way elegant. Yet. Hopefully this draft will contain the truth though and I can add my wished for subtlety in future drafts. I don’t want to dictate to the reader, whoever that might be.

There weren’t many words last week, about a 1000. What I have achieved is the feeling of why I’m writing this story and I’ve given myself the go ahead to crack on.

Life is confusing. Our emotions are confusing. Our opinions can feel confusing. The challenge for me is to harness all that confusion and let my two main characters in DTDLLTO navigate the swirling waters of truth.

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.

F Scott Fitzgerald

Social media has us by the balls!

I’m still a Twitter addict and as with every other addiction that I’m recovering from, moderation seems to be an impossible option. I need to find a solution though because I like Twitter for the communities I’m lucky enough to be part of. I’m not great at ‘real life’ socialising, and the running, writing and Coventry City supporting friends I’ve made on Twitter have become important to me.

I’ve installed an app to monitor my internet use and have set limits for the sites I use – It’s working so far I’m pleased to say. Let’s see if more efficient Twitter time translates into more productive writing time!

Come on, let’s hurl ourselves into the next creative week.

Onwards comrades.

A Word After A Word After A Word

The previous week’s update highlighted a patchy performance but I’d still managed a few words – find out more here.

So, how has week 5 gone of my writing comeback?

I guess for anybody except a full time writer, scribbling opportunities will be ‘patchy’ to say the least. Full time writers, I would imagine, have just the same interruptions and distractions as the rest of us, not least from themselves – we can all procrastinate the time away….

I’m an expert of procrastination – Rob Deering on the excellent Running Commentary Podcast joked about writers taking to Twitter and using the hashtag #AMWRITING as opposed to, you know, actually writing! I can be guilty of this, although I do tend to wait for those times when I’m chuffed with myself for the progress I’ve made.

Writing doesn’t need to be complicated, in fact, it being something I do with my precious leisure time, it really should be a joy. And 90% of that time it is.

In the other 10% of the time, I try and remind myself how Margaret Attword tries to make the process of writing a little simpler:

A word after a word after a word is power.

I’m still not running (I know, I’m feeling a little bit sorry for myself!) due to this annoying foot injury, but I did have a run at DTDLLTO (Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners – the working title of my first novel) last week. I found a state of flow several times in the short windows of opportunity I’ve had available, and have written about 2000 words. My first draft, or draft zero, or whatever you want to call it is now sitting at about 11,000 words.

I’m drafting away on my opening scenes, working across the first three chapters. I’m really happy with my two main characters, the setting and what we see them getting up to. When I come back, in however many months time, I’ll be looking to find a less clunky way for them to move to the next phase of the book, the meat of it. My story has quite a powerful and ever present back story which steers and, quite deliberately, hangs a shadow over the present day. I’ll be checking myself that I’m not shoe horning that back story into the narrative, rather letting the reader gradually piece it together for themselves.

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

W. Somerset Maugham

It really is sinking in now, the message that I’ve just got to get the story out of my head and on to paper – creating this draft zero – and then I can zone in and edit it in to shape. So many writers echo the sentiment: “You can’t edit a blank page.”

I’m also getting better at realising that it’s about the story, the thing that is in my head. As writer Steve Almond said recently on The Other PPL Podcast, the point is to create a body of work which reveals the truths behind my writing, not to try and impress with the size of my vocabulary!

AND – I’ve read some cracking flash fiction this week, not least in The Smokelong Quarterly Journal. They also often interview authors about how the pieces came about. I particulalry enjoyed the piece from Corey Farrenkopf recently and the follow up interview. Check it out, if that’s your thing.

So another week goes by.

It’s good, my journal has had plenty of use this week, I’ve listened to and read plenty of writing craft advice, I’m still reading the beautifully written To Paradise and whenever I get the chance, doing the one thing which will keep my projects moving forward, I’m turning up!

Onwards my friends, onwards.

Week IV – The Scribbler’s Return

Following on from a very productive week of being Mr WriterMcWriteyFace, where the words flowed like a burst water main (don’t believe me eh? Have a peek HERE), last week was more of a dripping tap in comparison.

But there have been words. Some of them thrown together to make sentences. Some of which make sense. Others will be edited over and over until they no longer exist, then rewritten before starting the process all over again. It’s all writing though, it all counts.

Seriously though, after getting so much momentum the previous week, this has been a case of ‘After The Lord Mayors Show‘.

A bit like with my fitness goals, it is at these times when I need to pull up my mojo socks and focus. Just keep turning up Kevin, keep on turning up.

James Baldwin knew.

There isn’t a ‘cheat’.

Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

James Baldwin

There’s no Monday to Sunday updates this week – just a list of positives:

  • I wrote about 1000 words of DTDLLTO, my novel in draft.
  • There’s a blog post coming, my reminder to myself to be positive.
  • My journal has been very busy – ideas, poem drafts, diary entries.
  • I’ve listened to some brilliant writerly podcasts and other audio.
  • Dreams and half awake thoughts have been committed to paper for inspiration.

Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

A.L. Kennedy

The host of my favourite writerly podcast, OtherPPL, has a book coming out. On the pod this week was a free sample of the audio book, read by the author himself, Brad Listi. Check it out HERE. I do harp on about OtherPPL, but that is because it really is a fine creation. Brad’s podcasts never fail to stoke my creative fires and I reckon his book will be a writerly tonic too.

Also in my ears this week has been Nikesh Shukla’s new writing craft offering, Your Story Matters, which has a fresh and pacy feel to it. Another book which is narrated by the author himself, it is a thoroughly engaging listen.

Shukla reminds us that the word count is only one measure of writing success:

Some days you get those words down quickly, other days you pad it out cos you’re tired or stressed or uninspired or it’s a hard sequence. Don’t write 1000 bad words down just to hit a word count. Think about it in terms of time rather than word count.

I’m also reminding myself that it isn’t just writing that counts as writing: thinking counts as writing, walking and imagining my characters in different surrounding counts as writing. Journaling counts as writing, listening to audiobooks counts as writing. Reading of course, without reading there would be no writing. Reading definitely counts as writing. Browsing, or better still, engaging with Writers HQ, yup that counts as writing. Blogging, diarising, taking about my writing, even tweeting my writerly chums, it all counts as writing. There’s even a tongue in cheek Counts As Writing Twitter account.

So I’m not beating myself over last week’s wordcount, in fact the process of tapping these few words has reinvigorated my get-up-and-sit-down-and-fucking-write-y-ness.

Yup, I’m all over it now.

On on for another week.

The Writing Comeback (Week III)

It’s Not All About The Numbers

Ahh, the blog post you’ve all been waiting for.

Here goes – week three of my writing comeback. Not everything can be measured in numbers.

Not for me anyway. Pleasure should not be quantified, happiness isn’t counted. Not in our house.

There’s a great interview with Zac Smith on this week’s Other PPL Podcast where Zac and host Brad Listi talk about how the pleasure of writing comes in the writing! It sounds obvious but, again forgive my analogy, it is just like running – one step at a time, one word at a time – it clears my mind.

Thinking very much counts as writing

What about progress? Surely I’ve always measured my running – longest distances, fastest times, PBs – and I’m guilty as charges I’m afraid. But it is till mainly about the feeling.

This reboot of mine (read this if you fancy) is all about BEING a writer and just as soon as my foot is healed, it will be about BEING a runner too

Of course I’ll be using numbers to measure my progress! Hopefully writing my estimated 90,000 words of the first draft of the novel, tentatively titled Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners (DTDLLTO) by the end of the year. But a good stint of writing will still be successful, if it FEELS successful, regardless of how many words I get down on the page.

SO, for your (and my) pleasure, here’s week three’s progress (and yes there are some numbers!)

Monday: I finalised and posted two, count ’em, TWO blog posts – Click here to read all about the two months since Nicky and myself became vegans or here to catch up with last week’s writing update.

Making people on paper, much like making them in your uterus, takes a long time, is physically and mentally exhausting, and makes you wee a lot. So brace yourself, we’re going in.

Writers HQ offering a reality check for the writer!

Tuesday: Busy McBusyface didn’t get chance to add words today.

Wednesday: On the timer, I managed 1100 words of the first draft of DTDLLTO. I also pre-ordered David Keenan’s latest offering today. It is a prequel to the extraordinary This Is Memorial Device (which I reviewed here).

Thursday: Busy trying to keep fit and then grandadding, so little time for words. The wonderful non-fiction journal, Hinterland dropped through the letter box today – I managed to read some of the excellent articles in there while little Charlie (the grandson, not the dog – I know it does make for some confusion having a pet and a 10 month old sharing a name) had a sleep.

Friday: Not feeling great. Ran out of time. Bit of noodling with Writers HQ working out how to join the virtual writers’ retreat.

Saturday: We had a bloomin lovely day out I’ll have you know. You can read about it just as soon as I’ve written the next blog post!

Sunday: Writers HQ Online Retreat. If you’re fancying doing a bit of writing and find yourself struggling for time (& money) have a rummage around their website. This was the first time I’ve done one of their writing retreats – which became online when that there pandemic arrived – and what a marvellous success it has been.

It just shows that prioritising writing, sitting at a desk which faces the wall, rather than having the laptop on my actual lap and sitting downstairs by a window, works a treat. For me, writing in chunks of time works so well. I did 5 sets of 30 mins of my novel today and wrote 2990 words of this first drafting. I’m just getting the story out and trying not to edit as I go!

Using my desk to lean on, you’ll be shocked to learn, is more productive than my lap!

A big chunk of wordsmithery time today paid dividends in more ways the number of words. I also started to get a richer understanding of the relationship between my two main characters, I found I could tap into a wider range of emotions, hopefully gradually changing between scenes. When I write in very small time windows, I find I force a feeling into a scene without the context of the scenes either side of it.

As the wonderful AL Kennedy says, once characters start developing through the act writing their lives, they will start to live in the writer’s head more. Thus revealing themselves in greater detail. I’m just letting these two show themselves to me as I go. They haven’t been created from nothing, in many ways they’ve been created from everything. And what a privilege it is to be their narrator.

A Certain Thought To Finish

Now here’s thing. A proper thing.

There’s a certain something about a certain writer. Or a certain podcaster. A certain friend, a certain relative or even a certain random character on Twitter. There is a certain something about these certain people which instantly inspires me to write. There certainly is.

You people know who you are 🙏

Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan.

On a day off work, with our exercise, work and dog walking done, we enquire of each other “are we in?“.

Yes we are!

Gentle music on, dog snuggled on the sofa, books out. Interrupted only by the need to eat.

Our two-people-and-a-dog-book-club goes from strength to strength.

We very often end up enjoying the same books. If we time it right, we simply swap as we both close the cover on our latest reads.

Nicky has recently enjoyed Strange Flowers and was fairly certain I would too. “Quite different and exploring so much.” she described it to me. So, as Nicky got stuck into Deborah Orr’s childhood memoir, Motherwell, I set about Donal Ryan’s latest offering, Strange Flowers.

I recently heard the author, Donal Ryan interviewed on Radio 4’s Books And Authors and found him to be engaging, humble and quietly hilarious.

I wasn’t to be disapointed, it is an exquisite read.

If I wrote human beings even a hundredth as beautifully as Donal Ryan, I’d be a proud scribe. Ryan’s characters aren’t just fully formed, they’re multi-dimensional, you can feel them around you. He places them. I experienced the story from all angles, like being sat amongst the most subtle of surround sound systems, every voice pulls your attention in another direction.

Set in rural Ireland, the story starts in 1973 when Moll, the only child of Paddy and Kit, ups and disappears aged 20. The parents lead a simple life which is devastated with the gradual realisation that Moll may be gone forever, her fate unknown.

The pain suffered in the years after Moll’s disappearance, and the toil of Paddy and Kit’s life is deftly articulated. As they toil on through life, never recovering, one day Moll simply walks back through the door.

Where she has been, why she left, and what and who she brings back into the simple, rural life is a master class in plot and story telling. There’s no dramatic revelation, no big, attention grabbing scenes. The lives of those close to the family, the people Moll has been with while away, and those of the rest of the villagers are gently knitted together as beauty, tragedy and realisations ease into the story.

Donal Ryan, who has twice previously been long listed for The Booker Prize, tells of love in layers. He shows love for some can be delicate, fragile, brittle almost. But he also shows love at strongest, combined with loyalties which can suffocate. The way faith is threaded through the relationships and how religion can both dominate and soothe is also carefully and honestly portrayed.

It is a tale of people. In this small family, and those close to it, Ryan has held a mirror up to us readers and let us deal with our own instincts. The complexities of race, of religion, of status, class and ownership, of sexuality, of coming of age and of bravery and fear are all exposed. His telling of the characters gets the reader under the skin of their exchanges. The man knows people, he knows emotion. The novel oozes emotion on every page.

I found I needed to absorb every single word. to me there isn’t a wasted sentence in the book. It’s early in the year but if there’s going to be better reads than this in 2021, I’m going to be feasting on words. When the book ended, which it does with a gorgeous light touch, I found myself nodding and watery eyed but contented and almost wishing to go straight back to page one and devour it again.

I heartily recommend.

Check out what else I’ve been reading in 2021 and the books I enjoyed in 2020 too. If a book has grabbed me and time allows, I tend to write a few words about it.

You Can’t Play An Instrument On This Bus

Bob Marley’s message will never die….

So, if I want to be a writer…..

I need to write…

And read, read lots, read a wide and diverse range of material….

But most of all write……

Regular readers may remember I’m writing a book? Well, it’s wheels are a-rollin’ again as *** & **** build towards a fateful moment in Chapter Three………

It only takes one lovely comment about the blog and my belief in my work swells. There’s been a few this week, THANK YOU, and I’m rather proud….

Inspiration too from an interview with Nikesh Shukla, his passion for his own writing and for the search for the creative soul in all of us is delightful. He edited the extraordinary collections of essays, THE GOOD IMMIGRANT, one of the most important, challenging, emotional and exploratory books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. One of those reads which left me feeling like I had somehow grown as a human being as a result of consuming it.

A rather lovely, ironic moment, as I spotted a ‘typo’ in Writer magazine whilst reading this interview.

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So, I’ll leave you to your weekend and get back to ******* where *** and **** are about to experience ****** ******. Clackety-clack

This book WILL happen…… #dogsthatdontlookliketheirowners

(This year, I’m keeping a list of my reading in THE BOOK LISTS 2018)

(In case you’re wondering, the ***’s are protecting you from too many spoilers about the book….)