I’ve written once or twice about my attempts at a novella or novel (I’m still not sure how it will end up – it began as a short story). About a week ago, reading a short bio of my blogger friend Iulia Halatz on the blog of the literary collective Sudden Denouement I saw she said she was much influenced by W Somerset Maugham, which tempted me to pick up his “masterpiece” – Of Human Bondage. It’s a long book for me; I’m about two thirds through now at about chapter 80.

Autobiographical?

Without reading anything about the novel it seemed to me to be largely autobiographical and seemed in many ways to be similar to my attempts at a longer story. I have said more than once that my fictional writing is not entirely fiction, my factual writing is not always strictly true. Somerset Maughan said “Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other.”

That gave me some hope.

The necessity of personal experience

One of the things which has struck me forcibly is that his descriptions of his main character’s (Philip’s) times in London, around the turn of the century, indicate that it was not substantially different to ‘my’ London of around half a century later, despite two world wars. It is of course a lot different now. Perhaps the biggest difference between Somerset Maugham’s fictional London and mine is the attitude to the ‘gentleman’, the professional and the tradesman.

Initial boredom

As for his novel, I found the first 25-30 chapters – about Philip’s school days – boring. I think a chapter or two would have done. However, after that his times in London, Heidelberg and Paris, and the attempts at art, accountancy and medicine, I found fascinating and it is clear that the author was writing from experience. It reinforced my belief you should only write from experience, laying creativity over that; no amount of research can substitute in my opinion. I’ve been to both Heidelberg and Paris more than once but could never set a story in either; even my small reference to a visit to Paris in my tale wouldn’t be there if I had never been there and knew the event written about could have happened (it could not now).

What I have gained most from my reading of Somerset Maugham so far is an idea of where to go in my story and if it leads where I think it might lead it could well become a novel rather than a novella.

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A photo of the working cover showing a mini-skirted girl 'with attitude'

My first attempt at getting my story going again was to format it as a book (https://wp.me/pkm0h-1G9)

I’ve often said I cannot write (fiction) to order, only when my characters hassle me to be heard; getting up early, or staying up late, to write 1,000 words come what may, as so often advised, is a pointless activity for me. So my first novella/novel(?) – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London’ – has lain untouched for several months.

Yesterday morning my two protagonists demanded that I pick up my fountain pen and give them a voice again. Why, I do not know. They did not say much, half a chapter from only one of them before I had to leave home, but they were clear what they wanted to say, each demanding a new chapter to give more details of a close friend, a friend who had a major influence on our lovers’ relationship. More than that I do not know.

It’s not writers’ block

Some time ago I felt I had not let them say all they wished to say but their tale had stopped at around 30,000 words. I had the idea that they each wanted to say more about a friend mentioned in passing but they wouldn’t say more at that time. I put the idea of filling out two other characters to my blogging writer friend Kristina Steiner, who has just published the second novel in her trilogy; despite her support for the idea my characters wouldn’t say more. Until now.

Beginning as a short story

The tale began as a short story, prompted by a theme set in our writers’ club: ‘what if?’ The story resulting, no more than two or three hundred words, became a chapter as one character began to speak. Shortly after the other of the couple demanded to be heard, so another chapter flowed out of the pen. They each now seem to be settled on allowing one to speak to me without interruption, for a chapter, then keeping silent while the other speaks.

Initially, each chapter finished with ‘what if?’ but that became tiresome and was deleted. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the idea of a story having more than one ending – ever since reading ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ when it was published during the era in which my tale is set. So my complete story became a ‘what if?’

Will my protagonists continue to speak? I don’t know but I would like to learn what happens to them. Hopefully, so will you if they do continue to speak.

 

 

 

 

Photo of poet Poet KMHerbert - Kayla - at the launch

Poet KMHerbert – Kayla – at the launch

Writers and other artists talking about their works, graduates in English literature (even professors!), or critics, analysing novels and poetry, usually just irritate me; I long ago gave up going to ‘an evening with … ‘ at the Ilkley Literature Festival (or reading blog posts with a similar theme – though there are rare exceptions – just a couple of women blogging writers). Usually so much self-indulgent, pretentious claptrap from others!

This probably stems from my experience with Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. I first read it at seven years old and loved it. Eight or nine years later it was the set book for my English Literature GCE ‘O’ level; the analysis over a year ruined it for me and I have not been able to read it since. Of course I failed the exam. Fortunately I didn’t need it but ‘O’ level English Language was no problem and that was handy to have when I changed career course from science to journalism.

A surprise

Photo of Sussi Louise at the launch

Sussi Louise Smith – Sussi – at the launch

It was a delightful surprise when I attended the launch of a ‘collection’ of poems and illustrations by two members of our writers’ clubWriting on the Wharfe – this week. Far from irritating me, the ‘presentations’ had me enthralled – K.M.Herbert (Kayla) explaining some of the motivation behind her poems and Sussi Louise Smith (Sussi) showing clearly the emotions aroused by the poems and carried through into her illustrations.

Kayla is Canadian, Sussi is Danish, but both have lived in Yorkshire for a while.

Here’s what I wrote on our writers’ club Facebook page the following morning:

So glad I made it to Kayla’s and Sussi’s launch last night. A fascinating evening to have a little of the creative process of two of our ‘collective’ of talented artists explained and such openness about the emotions driving the writing of Kayla’s poems over a five year period and Sussi’s reaction to them, inspiring her wonderful illustrations.

Anyone who knows me will know that I generally don’t react well to writers and other artists explaining their thought processes – usually so much pretentious b……. – but Kayla and Sussi took us on a wonderful journey through the ‘collection’ of 12 poems and illustrations ‘Between the Spaces’.

The chosen medium, a set of postcards, Kayla’s poem on one side, Sussi’s illustration on the other, was inspired.

You can order a set at:  www.kmherbert.com

The setting for the launch was perfect too: surrounded by books in the intimacy of  Ilkley’s The Grove Bookshop.

Just one poem and illustration

I cannot choose a favourite poem nor illustration now, possibly never, it’s been difficult enough to separate out just one, but here is one of Kayla’s shortest fills of the spaces in her life over five years and Sussi’s illustration for it.

PS. If you see an advertisement in the middle of this post it has nothing to do with me. I do not, of course, object to WordPress putting an ad at the end of a post as I’m not willing to pay to get rid of them. But messing up a bloggers’ carefully constructed posts with advertisements in the middle is unacceptable. Much as I like most aspects of WordPress after using it for about a decade I’ll have to look for an alternative.

Worse, the ads are usually completely inappropriate; the latest is for a military video game. I object strongly to such a game being associated with my blog. I do not play video games, I don’t believe many of my followers will play video games either. 

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’. I’ll hopefully grt the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’.
I’ll hopefully get the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

I just made a breakthrough in my writing. I picked up a fountain pen.

I had not handwritten anything other than short notes since writing to my mother when I was first in Romania in 1993 and had no access to a computer; even then it was with a ballpoint. I found it very difficult, having been used to a computer for the previous ten years, and a typewriter before that, since becoming a journalist in the early ‘60s.

How welcome a handwritten ‘letter’ was

What prompted me to move to handwritten was the reaction of my former student Paula, now a Romanian high school teacher of English, to a handwritten note included in a packet I sent to her (one of my ‘attic gems’ – a special English course I wrote when teaching in Romania). She said it was wonderful to receive a handwritten ‘letter’. I promised to ‘keep in touch’ with handwritten letters from time to time (among brief encounters on Messenger) and as two more of my ‘attic gems’ were fountain pens I decided to go the whole hog and go to fountain pen. The two old ones were not working (I intend to fix them) so I acquired a new one.

Transformation

Having begun the first letter to Paula during the time I had to write my contribution to our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, I began to scribble my ‘poem’ in a primary school exercise book with the fountain pen. What a transformation!

Ideas tumbling out of the fountain pen

Firstly, the ideas tumbled out like never before. Secondly, I began to do something I’ve said I almost never do – edit what I’ve written, neither during nor after writing (this comes from journalism where I almost always had no time to edit – often writing as many as 60 stories a week including one or more long features). With the fountain pen I found myself crossing out, writing alternative lines, jotting down ideas as they came, making lists of rhyming words as I was following Lewis Carroll’s ABAAB rhyming scheme. All very strange to me.

Even stronger urge to write

Now, the urge to write ‘creatively’ is far stronger with a fountain pen in my hand. I wonder if this will bring my ‘novella’ out of it’s long hibernation. Or even extend it to be a novel.

This writing by hand doesn’t extend to what you might call ‘non-creative’ writing, like writing blog posts. Those are still written on the the iPad (more rarely on the MacBook). So this post is written on the iPad, as will be most future posts, but if they include some ‘creative writing’ you can be pretty sure that will have been written first on paper, with a fountain pen. The only disadvantage of writing by hand is that to include hand written pieces  in something ‘digital’ they have to be typed up on a digital device.

PS. My first, 10 page, letter to Paula, composed over a couple of weeks, was posted on Saturday morning.

I’d  be really interested to hear from others whether the medium with which they write influences their writing, particularly use of a fountain pen (or not).

You can read my finished ‘poem’ on a previous post, or hear me read it on the post of 5 October.

Women’s equality has been the subject of my posts as often as the rarity of posts on politics. It’s great to be able to combine the two now, linking a member of our writers’ club to a general election candidate in my constituency – respectively Becky Bond and Sophie Walker.

I haven’t admired a politician since Tony Benn but now, though I still cannot now vote Labour (I stopped with Tony Blair) I have another, Jeremy Corbyn. I’m far from ‘left wing’ but in general he seems to be honest and sticks to his guns. So, if he were our candidate I might have a problem, whether to vote Labour (for him, not the party) or for Sophie. As he is not it’s no contest.

Becky Bond

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I've had the pleasure to 'work' with

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I’ve had the pleasure to ‘work’ with

Becky, for me one of the three best writers I’ve ‘worked’ with (the other two being career journalists), recently took the brave decision to go freelance when her job as a BBC radio producer did not allow her to write for anywhere else. She’s romping away, as I knew she would. We’ve become used in our club (Writing on the Wharfe) to hearing her hilarious writing on her blog (beckybondwrites.com) – unfortunately not WordPress, a little difficult to comment on it, but I persevere to support her. If you’re having a bad day just go and read her posts; if she doesn’t make you laugh you really do have a problem.

Now she’s writing regularly for the Yorkshire Post and a local parents’ magazine. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we see her regularly in the Guardian or Times/Sunday Times (she’s already been in the latter, a while ago). What’s really thrilling for me is she’s ‘seeing the story’ and recently adapted her style to do two brilliant pieces, one on a severely disabled pole dancer (really), the other on a schoolgirl power lifter (yesterday’s YP). Thrilling? When I was editing I had many times to remind my journalists “there is always a story”, so no excuses. Becky just sees ’em, naturally.

Sophie Walker

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

I don’t agree with everything Sophie says but, after around six decades of battling in my small way for women’s equality it’s so good to have someone standing for Parliament on that platform alone as leader of the Women’s Equality Party. She has an uphill task in our Shipley (Bradford) constituency where she will have to overturn a majority of 9,624 in the previous election for the sitting MP, Philip Davies. But if she can fire up the women’s vote, including those who have previously voted Labour, Liberal Democrat or not voted at all, she could do it.

Maggie Philbin OBE

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

I cannot close this post without a mention of another remarkable woman, Maggie Philbin OBE. It was a tweet of hers which first brought Sophie Walker to my attention. I had the honour to work with Maggie in a very small way when I worked for an organisation promoting women in science and technology, after admiring her from afar for years as an avid follower of Tomorrow’s World. She now does amazing work promoting careers in science and technology to youth. I was delighted to see her recently promoting apprenticeships as an alternative to university, another hobby horse of mine. Mine, for five years in the central research laboratories of then one of the largest engineering companies in Britain, opened so many possibilities for me and without it I surely would not be writing this post as my life would have taken a different course, and Sophie would probably have one less vote!

How to illustrate this post? The ‘ Happy Bunnies’, a special needs class I taught in Romania in 1994 made my heart bleed yet gave me so much joy every lesson. Here with me on a picnic, at the famous citadel of Stephen the Great in Suceava

My soul rarely bleeds out on my blog, more often in short pieces I write for relating in our writers’ club. Recently, however, as a result of an unexpected increased passion for ‘creative writing’, I’ve been exploring more writers’ blogs and have been staggered just how many blogger writers lay their souls bare – beautifully.

Many do it through poetry and what is really surprising is that many of these are not from bloggers in English speaking countries but nevertheless they are writing in English. The only language other than my native English I know reasonably well is Romanian so I can say some of the Romanian writers manage to overlay their English writings with the extraordinary beauty of the Romanian language. I suspect the same is true of some of the writing in English from India, which often also has an extraordinary beauty of its own. In both cases the English is frequently near perfect – better than many native English speakers!

I was particularly struck very recently by the final paragraph in a post from a Romanian blogger, Iulia Halatz, a teacher of English in Bucharest (moreover, she runs her own business – check her out at https://blogdecompanie.wordpress.com). Here’s the final paragraph of her post ‘tyrannosaurus writing’:

“To write with the truth of pain in your mouth is gruesome poetry…You’ll have to cut out your heart with every word and show it to the world, then hope it will heal. This is how the light gets in, also the dark. To acknowledge fear, defeat, despair and pretend serenity of a lesson learned while patching up the wounds is…Life.”

As someone much influenced by Leonard Cohen in my younger days I found the bow (or curtsy) to him striking. It made me think maybe I should write posts now and then where I open a few cracks, to let the light in.


PS. If the picture of my ‘Happy Bunnies’ used to illustrate this post intrigues you, perhaps you’ll find a long post I wrote four years ago , which has quite a bit of information about experiences teaching English in Romania 1993-94 (and using internet before we had Windows), when my heart was bleeding almost every day, though often with joy, interesting. Be warned, I ramble on about other things though. 

I was recently nominated for ‘The blogger recognition award‘; I have never ‘accepted’ such awards because I’ve seen they can get out of hand and usually require ‘inflicting’ them on a number of other bloggers. However, though I cannot accept this one because I cannot bring myself to meet the first condition, to nominate 15 others bloggers for it (think of chain letters – 15×15=225 x15=3,375) and thus cannot say something about each blog nominated, another ‘condition’. However, I am going to take the opportunity to fulfil some other conditions, the first of which is to thank the nominator and give a link to their blog.

Kristina Steiner

So, thank you sincerely to Kristina Steiner (click her name to go to her blog) who I came to know recently when she gave a ‘like’ on a post of mine, subsequently finding that she was Slovenian, a teacher of English (as I have been) and had recently (one year ago) published a book. One of the things I love about blogging, the most loved thing after providing an outlet for an urge to write, is discovering new ‘friends’ – often in other parts of the world and in completely different cultures – when they put a ‘like’ on a post. I like to think that Kristina has already become a friend.

I’m saying no more about the novel, entitled ‘Equinox‘, publicly other than to say it has many surprising similarities (yet some big differences) to the longest story I’ve ever written but nowhere near a novel (still in progress – see my post of 2 April). I bought Kristina’s book and finished reading it a day ago. I’ve already commented to Kristina privately and will do so more. You can buy it on Amazon – a Kindle version is very cheap. 

The second requirement is to write this post and show the award. I don’t mind doing that.

How I started blogging

Third is to say how my blog started. That’s easy but may seem a little odd (but I am, I’m told!). I created the blog in 2008, four years after returning to the UK after 11.1/2 years in Romania – most of the time as a volunteer – because although I was writing a lot in PR work positions at that time I wasn’t writing everything I really wanted to write about. However, I did not start blogging on it until four years later when my frustration with British politics, and what British society had become in my absence, boiled over. However, I foresaw that this alone wouldn’t keep my writing urges satisfied for long when I created the blog, so gave it a subtitle of ‘A view from Yorkshire, about anything’, so breaking a basic rule if you want to collect a lot of followers: have a single theme. I never did intend to post every day, another advice for collecting a lot of followers, only when I wanted to get something out of my system. There have also been long gaps due to some serious health problems.

Two pieces of advice

Another ‘condition’ is to give two pieces of advice to new bloggers. I wouldn’t usually be so presumptious but:

I would say always follow up a ‘like’ on your posts, even if only to go to have a look at the ‘liker’s’ blog; in my opinion it’s just polite, something that is sadly much missing from society today. It seems to me that the easier communication has become the less people communicate in any meaningful way (Facebook, which I dislike, being a prime example). You will not always find the blog interesting; I often put a ‘like’ on a blog that I would not want to ‘follow’ as the theme is not of general interest to me but that particular post is. On the other hand, you will find many new ‘friends’ in many different cultures.

My second piece of advice is do not get too hung up on posting frequently, or even regularly. This is against WordPress advice and will mean your followers will build up only slowly. Post when you want, or need, to say something. I find that if something is bugging me it helps to write it down and get it out there; whether anyone reads it, let alone ‘likes’ it, is often irrelevant.

Writing in a foreign language

So, thank you Kristina; I love you already and wish you success with your book and the second which you say you have in the pipeline. I have tremendous admiration for anyone who writes in a foreign language and already follow a number of Romanian bloggers for that reason, even though I read and speak Romanian pretty well. I have special admiration for someone who writes a novel in a foreign language. So, Kristina, I’m delighted that you have already prompted me to learn a little about your country and reading your novel suggested some solutions to difficulties I had encountered in my story. It is a privilege to have begun to know you. Thank you. (more…)