Thursday, 31 January 2013

C is for...Confidence!

Today I had to put up posters throughout the office promoting a campaign I’ve been working on.  As I pinned them to notice boards I grew more and more embarrassed.  Suddenly the words were stupid, the messages were wrong, the photos were weak.  Despite having had it approved by two people higher than me, I still don’t have confidence in my own work.

The same can be said of my writing.  I wonder how many times I will read and edit my current novel before I finally feel confident enough to it?

I could go on to explain ways of boosting ones confidence in writing (and work) but instead I’m going to ask a question.

Is this a female thing?

Best selling author, G P Taylor didn’t even bother submitting his first novel to publishers or agents for rejection.  He went straight to self publishing and look where it got him.  Look at where his confidence in his own capabilities got him.  Book deals, awards and movie rights.

What about Joe Abercombie’s recent announcement that he will be taking a break?  In his blog he mentions that he recent book, Red Country, was not always a pleasure to write and he’s come to a road block in his creativity and planning.  Maybe he’s burned himself out – a break is definitely very well earned after writing and publishing five books.

Last weekend I wrote down all of my ideas for books, novels and novellas and there’s more than ten on that list.  A lot more.  And I haven’t even got the confidence to know when my first novel is ready.  How on earth am I going to write over ten?

How about the fact that men are much more dominant in the literary world (and every other world it seems)?   Despite the number of female best selling authors – J K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, fantasy is still ruled by men.  This trend is definitely changing but...

And it’s an embarrassing but...but I have yet to read a fantasy novel written by a woman that I actually enjoy.

To write that as a woman is awful.  To write it as a female writer is close to blasphemous.  So one of my New Year resolutions for 2013 is to read more female fantasy writers.  I have the pile of books ready and as soon as I finish reading Terry Pratchett’s Snuff, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Abercrombie’s Red Country, I’m there!

So what is it that makes men more confident than women?  And why is it that when women are confident, they are frowned upon?  

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Being human 5

I've had a long day and a headache since I got out of bed this morning.  Therefore I apologise for the shortness of this blog post!

Today I found out that Being Human series 5 starts on BBC3 at 10pm on 3rd February!  That's this Sunday!

In light of this, and as I'm very tired and need to work on my novel, here is some information I've found on the upcoming series.

Having looked through all of this, I'm not sure if I want to watch the new series.  Now, I thought that about series 4 but then we still had Annie.  Now we have a whole new cast, all of which seem very young...Maybe it's time to hand Being Human onto a new generation of viewers as well as cast (I've already followed Aidan Turner into Middle Earth!).

But then, as with series 4, I'm sure I'll give it a go and I'm sure I will eat my own words and absolutely love it!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

A writing epiphany

After around twenty-five years of writing and reading as much as I can and five to seven years learning about the world of professional writing and publishing, I have come to the decision that one of the following statements is correct;

1.       Writing is actually very simple.  The two main things needed to succeed are perseverance and luck.  Writers make it out to be much harder than it seems.
2.       Writing is one of the hardest things to do on this planet.

Let me explain the second statement.  Obviously getting published is hard.  Perseverance in the face of constant rejection and trying to score that rare piece of luck is incredibly difficult.  But this second statement is saying that the actual writing is hard.

Which one do you think is true?

My vote is going for the first one.  The more I think about it, the more I think that writers think too much.  We worry too much and we go on and on about the simplest of things for no good reason.

I read writing magazines and scour writing forums and time and time again I see advice and questions that are just common sense.  It’s as if the feature writers are trying hard to justify their own existence and all this does is make aspiring authors panic and worry, resulting in the questions and self righteous answers on forums.

I have recently decided to separate my ideas of plots which will mean writing a lot more books than I originally planned.  Considering it’s taken around three years for me to get to this point with my current novel, on the sixth draft and with a growing paranoia about whether I’m barking up the wrong tree, how on earth will I ever write, finish and potentially publish all of those books?

Writing advice is full of grammar tips, rules on adjectives and speech marks, formatting issues and plot arcs.  All of which, I am beginning to feel, is a complete load of rubbish! 

I’ve started to get the feeling that writers are making up rules to justify themselves, to explain their actions, to earn money and prestige with no consideration to what this does to those new to the writing world.  And why not?  If that is how they earn a living and it helps just one person, then that's great.  But this weekend I came to the conclusion that writing simply cannot be as difficult as everyone makes out.

There are so many published books in the world.  So there are many more unpublished writers than published but I wonder how many have stayed unpublished because of the fear that these writers dishing out their advice have caused?

Well I refuse to be afraid and I refuse to fall into this trap.  Since the day I first discovered writing I have dreamt of being a published writer.  It is the only thing in my life that has stayed constant and it will happen.

We don’t need fancy charts or rules.  We only need confidence, perseverance, luck and to write and write and write.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Escapism of the first kind

Escapism can come in many forms and mostly, in this day and age, it includes a screen.  Television, computer games and even writing (unless you favour the pen and paper approach) all involve staring at a screen for long periods of time.  It can come as a relief to escape the real world in a manner that is kind on the eyes.  Reading, or going to the theatre...

As I mentioned in my previous post, this week I went to the theatre.  It was a brilliant play but the audience were not so brilliant.  The majority obviously enjoyed it as the cast bowed to a standing ovation and lots of whooping and clapping (and not just from me).  Yet I could have sworn that those around us were bored out of their minds.

I had two teenage girls sat in front of me.  The lower end of the teens but still old enough to know better.  They had hats on and kept bobbing up and down in their seats.  They are incredibly lucky that I didn’t snap, place my hands firmly on their heads and push them down.  One even turned around and watched me.  Why do people do that?

Also in front was a couple.  He had very obviously been dragged along and had brought a picnic with him.  He rustled his bags, threw his big head back to down sweets, obscuring my view, glugged soft drinks and then looked behind him (at us!).  When we got out a bag of sweets and rustled it for a moment, he immediately turned to see what we were doing.

Further in front was an older couple.  As Bill Sykes pulled a pearl necklace out of his mouth, she leaned over to her husband and hissed loudly in his ear, ‘what’s that?’  Why don't you watch and find out?  And why don't people know how to whisper?

Somewhere off to the left and out of sight someone had brought a very young child who naturally didn’t know what was going on and was bored.  And crying.  Loudly.

Further in front was a girl texting and a man, watching the football on his mobile.

What is wrong with people?  Why can’t people go to the theatre, sit quietly, sit still and enjoy the performance?  Why can’t people put their phones away for one evening?  Why can’t young people understand the concept of respect, not only for the people sat behind them who want to watch the performance but for the performers?

Being loud in a theatre is not the same as being loud in a cinema.  In a cinema you are only being disrespectful to your fellow audience.  In a theatre you are also being rude and disrespectful to the actors on stage, which in this case included a lot of very small children acting, singing and dancing their hearts out.

I would be mortified if I made a loud noise during a play, or if I got my mobile out to text someone, or if I had stupidly brought a very small child to an evening play they simply aren't old enough to understand.  Theatre audience etiquette is something that all young people should learn, theatre is something that everyone should be exposed to.
I find the short attention spans of young people very worrying, along with their dependence on their gadgets.  Turn your mobile off, sit comfortably, sit still and watch the play.  Revel in the performances, the talent, the scenery and the story and disappear into another world without having to stare at a screen.  Escape.  Just for a few hours.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

I'd do anything

Last night I saw Oliver! at the Bristol Hippodrome.  The last time I saw Oliver! on stage I was dinky.  We discussed it last night at the theatre bar and guessed I was about seven or eight years old.  I don’t remember much other than falling in love.  I also don’t remember the first time I saw the 1968 film but I’ve watched it countless times since. 

It was interesting watching the stage performance as an adult.  It’s difficult to see the film from a distance when I basically know the script and every movement by heart, but the stage performance is a little different.  I was able to take a step back and appreciate the story in a new light.

I know the story of Oliver! is dark.  It’s full of violence, orphans who are sold, children who die inside chimneys, poor living in slums and forced to steal and women and children being beaten.  Yet Oliver! disguises all of this by being gloriously aesthetically rich and full of fantastic musical numbers.  There’s a comedy element and a happy ending and all of this means that you can choose to ignore the violence.

When I was little I always focused on Oliver and Dodger.  I loved Fagin but I think that was because Dodger loved him.  Last night I studied Fagin and Bill Sykes and Nancy.  They are the adult stars of the story and all three are so completely different from one another and yet still make up this little family.

Bill Sykes is the evil villain.  In fact, in order to cope with the painful reality of Sykes, Oliver! has been turned into a pantomime where the audience actually booed the actor as he came to take his bow.  He is violent, quiet, stocky and just plain scary.  There isn’t a lot more to him, until he murders Nancy and then there is a panic and, perhaps, a hint of regret.  He did love Nancy and he got carried away, maybe because he was scared or maybe he saw red and simply lost his mind.  Unfortunately that is the limit to the depth of Sykes.  Whether this is due to him merely being a tool to put Oliver in danger or whether this is because his character has been softened and moulded to suit a younger audience and happy-go-lucky story.  (I haven’t read the book and never will as I find Dickens very boring.)

Fagin, on the other hand, is the grey area.  On one hand he is a crook but he is a villain with boundaries which is what separates him from Sykes.  He’s the element of comedy, a father figure for a lot of lost children and a business man, buying Sykes’ stolen wares to sell on.  He also, in my opinion, has all of the best musical numbers.  You cannot help but love Fagin.  He makes you smile and he cares for children – what is there not to love?  But there’s more to Fagin than this, there’s that deep desire to change.  He doesn’t want to be a crook, does he?  A man can change, can’t he?  That in itself adds layers to Fagin and makes him a loveable and intriguing character.

So that leaves Nancy.  I never paid much attention to Nancy.  It took me a while to realise she actually dies, murdered by her lover Sykes.  I remember being quite shocked when I watched the film for the millionth time and it finally dawned on me.  The story hides it well, covering the murder behind the walls of the bridge.  The scene is so fast with so much excitement and shouting, it’s easy as a child to miss the essence of what’s happened.

Last night it was like I saw Nancy for the first time.  I heard her properly for the first time.  Nancy is a strong, clever, brilliant woman.  She’s also a victim of abuse.  In love with Bill Sykes, she sings of suffering from black eyes and is shown constantly trying to break up fights that Sykes tries to start.  She’s also brave and stands up to this brute when he threatens Oliver.

When I was growing up, I was taught that to be a victim of domestic abuse is not due to someone being weak or stupid.  It’s a complex situation of mixed emotions.  Someone might stay with their abuser because of a number of reasons.  For some reason it never really occurred to me that the victim of abuse could actually be a strong, smart, out spoken woman.  Not because I thought the victims would be stupid, but because I’d never really thought about it.  I’ve never had a reason to and for that I am very lucky.  But it is this element that makes Nancy suddenly one of the most interesting characters on stage.

Nancy is in denial.  She has convinced herself that Sykes needs her and being the warm hearted, loyal woman that she is, she will stick by him.  This serves her well until Oliver comes into her life and she is suddenly torn between sticking by her man and protecting this little boy who has the chance of a life she never had.  Nancy does the right thing but unfortunately she’s in love with a violent thug and her ending is not a happy one.  For the first time, last night I had a tear in my eye as Bill Sykes beat Nancy to death.

As a writer who is currently struggling with my own writing prowess, I found it therapeutic to dissect these characters.  It was something familiar that I was seeing as if for the first time and that gave me a completely new view on the story.  The plot is simple but the imagery and character layers makes it brilliant.  This is something I have been trying to replicate in my novels for around five years now.  Sadly, being so close to my own work I have no idea if I’m even close to hitting this mark.  Right now it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

Last night’s performance was brilliant.  If you’re local to Bristol, I highly recommend seeing it.  The only disappointing part for me was the end.  As beloved Fagin walked into the sunset, leaving a smile plastered firmly on my face, no Dodger appeared to join him!  Still a fantastic ending, but the final scene of Oliver! for me will always be Fagin and Dodger walking into the sunset together.

I couldn't find a video of this so instead here's one of my favourite songs!