Monday, 29 August 2011

Ideas are such fun!

Well, first I lob into the blogosphere thoughts about the nature of truth and untruth, and then it becomes something outside me, a discussion topic.  As well as the comments on this blog, I had emails, conversations with friends and family. Ideas on the nature of truth in fiction, history, even photography, as well as my original thoughts on memoir, all became part of the story. What fun! (If anyone has no clue what I'm talking about, click here to see what all the fuss is about.)

This is why I like ideas. They come out to play when you least expect it. You can throw them up in the air, see them tossed about and come down in a slightly different shape. They have become something different, reorganised, evolved.

Which is partly why I'm beginning and MA in Creative Writing this September.  Well, only partly.  It's mainly because it's what I feel like doing next.  But I couldn't write that on my personal statement (yes, I had to write a personal statement on my application form.  That was creative writing in the raw).  So I waffled about wanting my writing to improve, to 'get better' - whatever that means.  But basically I know I love it, want to do it, talk about it, think about it - and maybe even have something to show for myself at the end of it.

And yes, I'll be blogging about it.  But not about individuals, nor course grumbles, nor my thoughts on any one else's work.  Rather, it will be my reflections on my own efforts, and whether it is as exciting as I think it will be.  All those ideas to toss around - and who knows what shape my writing will be at the end of it. But that's the excitement, the joy of not-knowing.

And you - what would you do, if you could?  What unlikely course would you study, country you'd visit, remains you would excavate, scientific corner you'd - do whatever people do in scientific corners?  Okay, I know it's often not possible, but surely dreaming is fine.

(And yes, I know I'm self-publishing a book at the same time.  You don't need to remind me.  Thinking is in full spate in the self-publishing department.)

So, I now have student union card, and a bus pass.  Now, which will get me a better deal getting into the cinema . . .

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Truth and Untruth in Memoir.

Thorny one, this. When you read a memoir, do you assume that every word is 'true?' - and, if you do, do you assume that your truth and the writer's truth are the same thing?

Deep water, this. But, bearing in mind that everyone sees things differently, surely every memoir can only be the writer's recollections. Parents, siblings, friends, may have completely different memories. For instance, I loathed school; I am sure some of my contemporaries quite enjoyed themselves. Both views are equally valid.

But we now know that not all memoir-writers stick to the concept of personal validity, even make things up. For instance, Steinbeck did not spend every night in his green van when he drove round America with Charley; Chatwin may never have made it as far as Patagonia. Does this invalidate their books - both as works of literature, and in relation to their wobbly attention to truth?

And yes, it is relevant to my book. I trotted round the world, and have written about it. And - you'll just have to believe me here - I haven't made anything up. But I have been selective in what I wrote about. For instance, I have not described my rapture at sitting in the Sydney Opera House listening to Rigoletto; rather I concentrated on getting very lost on a beach near Manly. Why? Not because one incident is more or less important than the other, but because it is easy to find images - and youtube snippets - from the Sydney Opera House, and not many of a middle aged woman stuck on a beach with the tide coming in and common sense disappearing over the horizon with its backside on fire.

Every writer makes choices - for the sake of story. And yes, these choices may shape memoir in such a way that the humdrum is drowned and every day is presented as drama. Truth it may be, but can never be the whole truth.  Or can it - do you know of any other memoir writers wrestled with this?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The great thing about not-knowing.

So - I've taken the self-publishing decision, and have been trawling websites and blogs for advice. In particular, blogs about writing and publishing. And there are plenty of those.

Blogs - many, of course, are wonderful. They offer advice with humour, and often with humility. Written by bloggers willing to share blunders as well as successes. They inform and entertain and I turn to them first and join in with comments. (Others are too didactic for me; bossiness tends to send me to the back of the class, wanting to shout 'prove it.' But that probably says more about me than it does about them.)

Mine feels like a feeble addition to the blogosphere. I can find no other blog that wanders along the 'I'm not sure what I'm doing here but hello anyway?'path. Nor one that acts as a diary along the writing and publishing road, with mistakes on show for everyone to learn from, or not. The whole thing - this blog, and the leap into self-publishing, feels like a giant experiment.

But surely it's fine to say 'I don't know but I'm going to find out.' That's different from being ignorant - ignorance shuts out the possibility of learning. While not-knowing contains the possibilities of discovery, of creativity. It is not a position of weakness, but is exciting, and scary, and full of glorious choices. It feeds curiosity, fuels experiments, allows me to make mistakes. Ignorance is a dead-end; not-knowing is an opportunity.

Sometimes I wish more people would admit to not-knowing. It allows for asking questions, for alternative solutions, for second thoughts. But that's an opinion, and I've already said I don't know enough to have opinions.

So I don't suppose anyone will follow me for advice - in fact, I hope you won't. I need people who will laugh with me (and, sometimes, at me) as I unpack the jigsaw of the publishing world and try to piece it all together. And advice - yes, please offer advice.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The changing of minds.

A comment from Cat on my last post got me thinking. As I drafted my reply I realised that, in my transition from dreams of finding a traditional publisher to getting my self-publishing clothes on, I've had to reframe they way I think about this book.

Reframing - a phrase from my old days as a therapist. (Yes, a play therapist, with traumatised children. It feels like another life now). It means the process of changing one's thinking, generally from a somewhat negative approach to finding positives. For some children the prospect of two Christmases and birthdays begins to compensate for their parents no longer being together.

For me - it's been a slow, and often painful process, dragging myself towards a more positive view of self-publishing. I've been on the fringes of writing and publishing for several years, and watched opinions change. Ten years ago, self-publishing was (rightly?) called 'vanity publishing.' Writers unable to find a traditional home for their novels, with contracts and advances and royalties, could pay someone to do it for them.

Two things have changed: traditional publishing has been squeezed; it is unclear how many people still read, but fewer and fewer books make money - and making money is the function of any company. Which means the chance of any book making it to the shelves of Waterstones are slim. At the same time, print-on-demand (POD) services have made it easier for writers to produce books for themselves, with minimum costs, and with all the marketing opportunities the internet has to offer.

As a result, anyone can do it. And, while, the quality of much self-published material is little better than eel vomit (Nicola Morgan's term, in 'Write to be Published'), one can defend the right of any aspiring writer to take a manuscript and make it real. For, among the dross, there are gems. Dan Holloway (here) has shown how, with hard work and persistence, self-publishing can become an aspiration in its own right, by-passing any thought of traditional publishing. Just as there are gems in indie music, self-publishing is now unveiling wonderful books that would never emerged from their writers' dreams without the opportunities of POD.

I know all this. But in my head I've had to take an idealogical leap - from daring to dream of editors with big desks and fat wallets with their proofreaders and their typesetters and their marketing departments who would make my book look so wonderful everyone would buy it and people would look at me in the street, oh so you are Jo Carroll (tell me all writers have little dreams like that?) - to a recognition that self-publishing is not only valid, but an exciting and worthwhile road to travel.

Reframing. And yes, it has made my head hurt occasionally - but I've made it.

And - ps - if anyone can tell me how to reduce links to a nice tidy 'here', in red, for people to click on so I don't have long addresses, I'd be grateful.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Submissions, rejections. The usual merry-go-round?

Back to the book, and writing, because that's what I set this blog up for. I shall try not to digress too much. Well, maybe sometimes. But today I shall be disciplined.

I shall tell you what's been happening - and where I'll go from here. And I'm not going to whinge - because it achieves nothing.

The Book (Over the Hill as it is now) was submitted to three publishers about a month ago. Yes, I know I didn't tell you. Because it takes ages for replies to come, and blogging 'still waiting' for week after week is boring for all of us. And because chewing one's nails is something that should only be done in private.

I chose the publishers carefully - but, I must admit, with limited optimism. Why? Because Paul, my mentor, had told me that this book would have found a publisher without a problem - ten years ago; but not now. But, he added, it's an ideal book to self-publish. I have no reason to disbelieve him (his advice has always been thoughtful and constructive). But - well, sending to traditional outlets was worth a try, if only to prove him right. So I targeted three publishers, carefully, but kept my dreams realistic. And I knew I wasn't going to trawl round every publisher in the Writers and Artists Handbook.

Two rejections have arrived. The first came late on a Friday afternoon, and was - well - terse. So what does that tell me? That they were tired and working their way down the submissions without really thinking? Possibly. That my submission was rubbish - also possible. It was the only submission that needed full non-fiction proposal, and it's years since I've written one. And I suspect, once the synopsis and everything else was written, I approached it with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Although it still looks okay to me, I suspect a keen-eyed editor spotted my reluctance to engage with the minutiae of that proposal.

And the second arrived, also on a Friday, but worded with such understanding that it felt as if the writer was genuinely sorry to reject my efforts. Her final words were 'don't give up.' For all I know, the rejection email may have been cut and pasted. But it felt kinder. As if my feelings might be important even if my submission was, well, rubbish. Or maybe it wasn't total rubbish, but just not sparkling, amazing, right for them. The rejection was less bruising.

And the third - I'm still waiting.

Yes, there were a lurches of disappointment. I wouldn't be human if there weren't. But it's time to take it from here. To investigate self-publishing options. To get this book out myself.

It is, I confess, daunting. I've bought books on self-publishing (where else would I begin?), and they all give slightly different advice. The technological details terrify me. I have drifted into a website or two, and run away to eat chocolate. But, give me time - and I'll get there. And please - if anyone has any ideas how to get past this 'so scary I'll look at it tomorrow' hurdle, then I'd be grateful.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Writing in public spaces

I read an interview with Stephen King the other day. It's obvious, simply from counting the number of books he's written, as well as the insight of On Writing, that he works compulsively hard. But the comment that surprised me was when he admitted taking editing to a ball game.

Now, I know nothing about 'ball games' - other than the clips seen on films or TV. They always seem to include a lot of nailbiting and cheering and people carrying large cups of coca cola. And sometimes people climb over each other in the stands, or miss the action because they are too busy kissing. So tell me - do they have plenty of pausing spaces - spaces where it is possible to divert thinking from the ball game (Stephen King is, apparently, passionate about the red sox) and re-immerse oneself in something written? How does he do that? Allow his brain to be so involved in two such disparate things?

I do write in public - especially when I'm travelling. When I'm away I write anywhere - my diary overflowing with the tiniest details of bus stops and train stations, cafes, hotel rooms, corners of parks, by rivers, watching the sea. How else to record the mayhem around me - the goat giving birth on the ghats at Varanasi; the smell of Germolene in a hostel room in Kuala Lumpur. I even wrote in the back row of Sydney Opera House, after the first half of Rigoletto; a man from Glasgow climbed up to me to ask what the acoustics were like up there. By the time he'd gone I had just five minutes to scribble my thoughts on our conversation, Rigoletto, and the Opera House itself. But it had to be done.

When I'm at home my little notebook nourishes passing thoughts. Ideas for stories (rubbish, mostly); overheard conversations; incongruities. And I read - on buses and trains, in cafes. (I don't read on buses and trains when I'm travelling - there's so much going on out of the windows, and I don't want to miss anything!)

But editing? At a ball game? Surely that requires a very different headspace. If I'm writing when I'm out and about I write about what I see. And I read if I'm somewhere predictable, and can bury my head in a book for a while - not dipping in and out of it. Maybe it's me - and I need an editing space. But you - can you take editing to the ball game?