Monday, May 18, 2015

Why writing is on hold

I can't write at the moment, and here's why. The room in which I like to write is an attic room, under the sloping ceiling with no space between me and the actual roof. As I work I can hear the pigeons trotting across the slates just above me, and their cooing is a soothing background soundtrack. I feel so at peace there, so removed from the hum-drum world down below and free to sink into other worlds. I know it's a cliche, the writer in the garrett, and it's often presented as a writer's hardship (having to live in a garret, which is traditionally associated with poverty), but our garret is an extra, and I know I'm lucky to be able to work there. However, since it's directly under the roof it's been vulnerable to leaks, and I have often also sat writing with water dripping - and more recently pouring - into a bucket. So now the roof is being mended, the view from the window is blocked by scaffolding, John is working on the window frame, since it went rotten while we didn't consider it worth decorating up there, and everything's covered with drapes. I feel bereft: I had to abandon the desk hastily, because the roofers began earlier than I had expected, and it's a struggle to get back up there to get things I need for writing but had forgotten, as, on the stairway just outside, the old skylight is being replaced and the stairwell is blocked with tarpaulins. And anyway I can't write.

I don't think it's just the sound of hammering above, and battens being thrown down all around; it's also to do with my displacement from my nook. I've puzzled about why, since I've written in so many other places: I've lived in so many other places, for a start, and I've written in basements and shared bedrooms; I've written in other places in this house, on the table I'm sitting at now in our living room, and on the landing, even, with all the doors shut, when I've needed insulation from the sound of other people's roofs and building work being done. I've often written very successfully while travelling alone on trains, usually with the excitement of a brand-new idea, and I think that's a clue, travelling alone being not only stimulation but a kind of mental insulation: a removal from the day-to-day, and a throwing back of oneself onto one's own resources and insights. It's a question, in the main, I've found, of carving out a kind of physical-mental space, a corner of the room, say, where these particular thoughts and inspirations happen. So why can't I do it now? After all, the roofers aren't here at weekends, or when it's raining, as it is at this very moment, and anyway I could take my writing pad and laptop off to a quiet cafe and work there.

I think it's to do with the particular work I want to tackle next, and it makes me realise something about the process of writing, at least as it works for me, as well as having implications, I think, for the kind of fiction our distracting culture makes difficult. What I want to tackle next is a story of very deep emotional turmoil and betrayal, and I know I can't do it - not properly, not with justice - unless I feel utterly calm and sorted and on top of everything. I know that, if I'm not, the story could overwhelm me, and I could fail to achieve a light enough touch for the story not to be overwhelming for the reader. I'm too locked on to it now to turn in the meantime to anything less complex or shorter, but I can't start it in odd moments of peace, as I know it's going to need an immersive and uninterrupted effort.

Seems to me, then, you need to be untroubled to write tragedy well, and you need peace to write of turmoil - not to mention the private income or decent remuneration that can provide them.

Crossposted to Fictionbitch

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Unthology 7 arrives

Today I received my contributor's copy of Unthology 7 (Unthank), soon to be officially published, which includes my story, 'Looking for the Castle'. The book looks every bit as good as in the photos we've seen beforehand (and feels lovely: all silky-matt!). Very exciting. Nicely typeset, too.

It's pretty great being in Unthology. Editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones have received much praise for their aplomb in creating a series of eclectic high-standard anthologies which Sabotage Magazine has called 'a beacon of promise for the short story genre'. Here's the editors' mouth-watering press release for the new issue:

 Flinch at the things that twitch in the windows a mile up from the city streets. Let text messages lead you towards a man that you already know is going to mess with your head. Find the meaning of life in your own lobotomy. Now, the ghost of Gaudi whispers in your ear, urging you to get yourself another lover, insisting it’s all going to be smooth and comfortable this time. Ruin yourself and drift towards the haunted shores of your youth. Then find yourself back there, returned to the low-down slums of a city in a country that no longer exists, that UNTHOLOGY 7 documented and mapped out for you, and you alone, a long, long time ago. 
Elizabeth Baines, Roelof Bakker, Adrian Cross, George Djuric, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, Sonal Kohli, Amanda Oosthuizen, Dan Powell, Gary Budden, Ken Edwards, Elaine Chiew, and Charlie Hill

Unthology 7 will make its first appearance at an Unthank event at the London Short Story Festival on June 20th, and the official launch will take place at Project U in Norwich on the 25th. I'll be reading at the Norwich event along with other contributors including Dan Powell. (Excited to be going to Norwich again - last year, when I went to read at the Unthology 5 launch, I made my first ever visit there.) Dan and I will be interviewing each other for the Unthology blog, and I'll provide links when the interviews appear. The book can be preordered here and here. Previous Unthologies can be ordered here, and you can read about the Unthology project on the Unthank website.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Goodnight Ophelia by Penelope Farmer

Over on Fictionbitch, there's a guest post by Penelope Farmer, famous for her classic children's novel Charlotte Sometimes. Penelope discusses the forces in present-day publishing squeezing writers like herself with long and respected careers, and the solution her agent found in helping to bring to public attention her sweeping new novel, Goodnight Ophelia.