Tag Archives: writing

Adventures in Poetry

I’ve written poetry since childhood. Child me was very much a nature poet. Teenage me wrote a lot of angsty emotional stuff – which wasn’t that original of me, but there we go. The habit of using poetry for catharsis and processing stayed with me. These days I try to work it into something another person might find interesting or entertaining before I put it in front of anybody.

For some years, my writing poetry has depended a lot on having an audience for it. I put the odd poem on here, and there’s one on Patreon most months. I was at my most prolific as a poet when I had a local, monthly poetry event to go to. There’s nothing like the promise of an audience to focus my thoughts and get me interested in writing. Making people laugh is deeply attractive to me. Just occasionally I managed to spellbind hard enough to get deep silence in response to my words, and I find that highly rewarding, too.

Of course lockdown meant there were no poetry events to go to. I rapidly discovered that Zoom events with more than a couple of people stressed me to the point of malfunction, so while there was a big online poetry scene during the pandemic, I wasn’t part of it.

I’m currently in the process of reviewing the poetry I’ve written in the last two years, to see if I can make a viable collection out of it. When I’ve pulled it together, people on Patreon will get first dibs, and then later in the year I’ll put it in my ko-fi store – https://ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T/shop – where I already have a number of ebooks, and two poetry collections. You can pick any of those books up for free, or pay what you want. I’m a firm believer in gift economy, so if you have limited resources, please help yourself to the free stuff with my blessing.

If you have resources, throwing a few coins in the hats of creators you like is a really good choice. It makes a lot of odds. It doesn’t have to be my hat – if you’re able to support other creators then that’s entirely cool so far as I’m concerned. I also benefit from other creators being able to afford to keep going.


The trouble with murder

To be clear, I have no issue with self defence. I also have considerable sympathy for anyone who kills to escape unlawful imprisonment. It happens – and it tends to be what’s going on when women kill their abusive partners. Otherwise, the standard reasons for murder are really crappy when you look at them. Jealousy, greed, revenge. For the domestic abuse escapee, the point at which you get out is the point at which you are at most risk of being killed, because loss of control over a person feels like a reason for murder, for far too many people.

As a starting point then, I have problems with books that present murderers as interesting or sympathetic. I have a particular distaste for the ‘clever serial killer who toys with the police’ trope. I’ve read and watched enough murder mysteries to have developed a certain amount of unease. I also struggle a lot with the ‘amateur detective who just happened to be there’ model, with all due reference to Murder She Wrote, and things of that ilk.

I am perpetually uneasy about the way murder can be presented as a mental health issue – as is often the way of it in the news. On one hand I think a person has to be a particular kind of unhinged to think that killing someone is a good option in most circumstances. On the other hand, stigmatising mentally ill people is cruel and unhelpful. Most people with mental illness are a danger to themselves and not to anyone else.

It has therefore come as a bit of a surprise to me to find that I’m co-writing a cosy murder series. I like a challenge, and it’s a good opportunity to look at my beliefs and assumptions around the genre and to also consider whether I could do this on my own terms. I do want to explore what the hell has to be going on in a person’s head to make murder seem like a reasonable choice. Not to validate that choice, but to make people question the kinds of thinking that might take you there.

I don’t believe that the inclination to murder is innate, or that it comes out of nowhere. The choices we make, the beliefs we adopt, the entitlement we feel and the way we justify things are all going to contribute to a trajectory. If it isn’t an accident, and it isn’t in self defence then there’s been a journey to the point where it seems like a good idea. That’s something I’m interested in exploring.


Of writing and magic

Any act of writing can be a spell. Simply putting words into the world is an act of will, intended to cause change. It is a process that can change the person undertaking it, as well. I write things on this blog because I intend to cause change.

Sometimes I write in order to understand. I find it a powerful tool for processing. There have been many times when insights have come to me as I was writing, rather than having set out to write about insights I’d already had. Even when I think I know what I’m going to say, the process of writing often opens unexpected doors and allows something new to come through.

By this means, I can take ideas out of my thoughts and place them in your mind. Thanks to the additional magic of the internet, I can do that without necessarily knowing you. Written words travel freely through time and space, connecting us with people in ways that go far beyond what many of those writers could ever have imagined. I can sit at my computer and read in translation the first known novels from around the world – something I doubt those authors could have imagined would ever be possible.

Anything you can do through meditation, trance, visualisation or similar inner working, you can do by writing. It’s all about the kind of states your mind can enter and how you choose to explore that. For me, if I want to know about something, my best bet is to try and write about it. The headstates I sometimes enter when writing are much akin to those other, more obviously spiritual states. 

Much of my writing is deliberately constructed by me, in a conscious way. Much of what I do depends on knowledge, experience and years spent learning technical stuff and honing skills. However, every now and then, something else seeps in. Not always when I’m trying to court the numinous, sometimes when I’m being entirely silly, even. Some of my best animist writing is in Wherefore – which was written to be an amusing distraction during lockdown. 

Opening up to the flow of words and ideas always makes a space where something else is possible. Just occasionally, something else comes through that is more than I expected, and takes me to places I did not know I could go. Sometimes, the act of writing is one of being enchanted – not being the spell caster, but being the one on whom the spell is cast.


Dorset adventures!

I’m delighted to announce that I’m going to be co-writing with David Bridger. Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve reviewed several of David’s books recently, and am really taken with his work. He’s also read some of my scribbings, and the outcome was a conversation about co-writing. I’m very excited to be working with him, and feeling enthused about where this project is going.

I’m happiest when I’m co-writing. I don’t do well with the author model of disappearing off, alone, for ages, to make something no reader will see for a couple of years. I need my creative processes to be much more interactive, so I thrive when I have someone to write for, and with. It’s also why I put a lot of stuff out into the world – I need the feedback and the sense of involvement.

I expect I’m going to be fairly guarded with the content for this one, but that there will be interesting things to say about the process. One of the many things David and I have in common is that we’re interested in tradition, and in the spirits of places. Which is how we get to a photo of me reading an excellent book of Dorset folklore. Cover by Katherine Soutar, who is a friend of mine. I don’t know Tim Laycock personally, but I’m really enjoying his storytelling style. The History Press, who publish this, are local to me, so they were my go-to starting point.

I spent some time in Dorset as a child, which is an interesting thing to draw on. Those childhood memories have dreamlike qualities. I’ve also read some Thomas Hardy – Tess of the D’urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, neither of which I actually liked. However, in terms of fictional Dorset, Hardy is a force to be reckoned with, so I’m going to dig in and read a few more. He’s also, according to the internet, a very good source for Dorset conjuring traditions. Hold that tantalising thought!


Making things for people

My inspiration has always been really people centred. I do my best work when I’m writing for specific people and when I’m interacting. I had a team for the Wherefore project who made suggestions and who were a keen audience and that me going through lockdown when isolation and anxiety might otherwise have made it hard for me to create. Usually when I’m working on a large project, I have some people in mind who I hope will like it.

Acknowledgements in books I’ve written tend to be all about the people I was writing for. There are some regulars. Some, like Lou and Merry are very visible in my online community. Some of them are secretive and like to stay in the background. I name no names. My immediate household are very supportive. It helps to have more input from more people – I can get through a lot of input, and I don’t want to burn anyone out. 

I’ve had a few more involved creative partners along the way. Varying degrees of intensity and commitment on that score. I had a fabulous time writing a novel with Professor Elemental. I have a longstanding creative relationship with Tom, and we’re looking at how that will change after the graphic novels. Keith Errington has become a serious Hopeless Maine collaborator, and we’re exploring more territory there. I’m really enjoying writing for The Ominous Folk, and seeing how the performance and scratch theatre side evolves and who I can include in that.

I’m high maintenance around inspiration and needing people to interact with. I need a lot of engagement – it’s why I do things like writing blog posts and putting out the Wherefore series. Going away for months to write a book and coming back with a finished thing no one will see for ages isn’t really sustainable for me. I need the feedback, but more importantly I need to maintain a strong sense of who I’m doing this for. Thank you for reading and being part of that process!

There’s nothing like someone wanting something from me to get my brain working. It takes me places I can’t go on my own. If you’re ever reading this blog and wish I’d dig in more with a subject, or there’s something you haven’t seen me write about and wish I would, please say. That kind of feedback is really good for me.


How to be brilliant and successful

I’m always fascinated by the advice writers hand out to other writers, as though there really is a magic formula that will get your book written and published.

There really isn’t.

If something feels weird and uncomfortable, probably don’t do it. This is advice that holds up in most situations, not just writing. The exception may be around medical checkups. 

Of course it’s tempting to think there are easy answers and things that are bound to work. But honestly, if that’s what floats your boat, get into something where doing what you’re told to do actually gets you results. Whatever those things are. I can bake a cake by following instructions. I can make a granny square. What I can’t do by following other people’s rules is make something original and also be guaranteed to sell it for a lot of money. 

When you start out doing something you have to put in the time to find out how it all works. No one would expect to win a baking contest with the first cake they’ve ever made. I find it odd that many people have entirely different expectations for their first book. 

Being brilliant takes time. It means going beyond whatever natural gift you have, and finding out how to work with it. Putting in the work is essential – just dreaming about it doesn’t lead to success. However, being brilliant doesn’t lead reliably to success either. In the creative industries, luck, privilege and nepotism count for a lot. These are not meritocracies.

Most authors do not earn enough to live on and either work other jobs, are supported by other people, have resources available to them or accept being poor. Or exciting combinations of those things. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something. It may be a book. Perhaps it will turn out to be a book about how to teach people how to write books. 

You have every chance at being brilliant. Find out how you do things to best effect and keep doing it. Brilliance has everything to do with time and determination. You probably won’t be successful economically, because that seldom happens. Other measures of success exist. Joy matters. Being able to share with people is good.


Ghostwriting – things I have learned

Ouija boards are frustratingly slow.

Apparently the sprawling gothic castle does not come with the job.

Ectoplasm is a bugger to get out of the keyboard.

There is zero sympathy available if you start rattling your chains in the middle of the night.

There are whole new definitions available for the term ‘deadline’.

Wailing is not as cathartic or effective as you thought it was going to be.

Stained sheets are not a good look.

Once upon a time, many years ago, I wrote an 80k novel in six weeks. It nearly broke me. This time I’ve written a 50k novel in three weeks, managing to take weekends off and keep other things – like this blog – going. I’ve learned a lot since that first go at writing a novel to order. 

Without inspiration, I don’t tend to write. However, one of the things most likely to motivate and inspire me is someone needing me to do something. The things that made this book problematic and technically difficult were also the things that set my brain working and enabled me to find a way through this project.


Doing it for money

Living by creative work is a bit of a gamble, to say the least. Most of my working life I’ve had other jobs on the go as well – often also in publishing, because marketing and editing pay more reliably than writing does.

I spent this last year mostly working on my own stuff, when I wasn’t being horribly ill. Given the many rounds of being horribly ill, it’s as well I wasn’t trying to do much else! But, I gambled on a couple of things and it hasn’t worked out. This happens. Opportunities melt away, or turn out not to be as good as they looked. Currently the entire book industry is being sorely challenged by distribution issues, paper shortages and whatnot, especially in America. Royalty payments are down, because American book sales are really low right now.

What you earn as an author tends to depend on work you’ve done in previous years, and there’s often no knowing how long it will take for the work to lead to money. One of the advantages of self publishing is that you get the work out and sell it. Big publishers move slowly and can take years to make decisions. Graphic novels are slow to make, so the books we’re working on were first drafted ten years ago. With the series complete, that set of books will be more interesting to other publishers, and Sloth may be able to pitch it on – but who knows?

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel in six weeks because someone offered me something like a thousand pounds to do it, and that’s more money than I’d ever made from writing before that point. By the end of it, I had days where I was mostly just shaking and crying – multiple drafts of an 80k novel is a lot to do in six weeks and I didn’t sleep much. I didn’t do another one. I couldn’t have sustained it, although it turned out that my first husband thought I should have done.

I gambled and lost, this year. I lost money on an event where I really needed to come out ahead. Everything has been slower than I needed it to be. Releases are delayed. Various projects have been hit with problems and some things I’ve just had to rethink. Meanwhile energy costs, and food costs are set to rise. I have a safety net, but it’s finite, and shrinking. 

I spent New Year’s eve looking at local employment possibilities. I’ve done all kinds of work along the way, I have no qualms about jumping back in – shelf stacker or dinner lady maybe. My skills aren’t much use for conventional employment outside of publishing, I don’t have a car, and that means I’m pretty much obliged to look at minimum wage jobs if I can’t get the writing based work to pay. At one point a few years ago I was doing half a dozen small jobs to make ends meet, and it was tough. So, I was bracing myself to get back into all of that.

Much to my surprise, I find that instead I’m going to be writing a novel to a tight deadline and for a flat fee. I’ve got three books to read as a matter of some urgency, and I’m going to be flat out for the next eight to ten weeks. So if the blog is a bit brief, or sporadic, this will be why. But it will pay better than being a traffic warden, and I was going to have to lie on that application about how well I handle aggression and conflict situations…


What stories should we tell?

A good writer can tell any story they like. However, one of the hallmarks of the crappy author is the inability to spot the stories they aren’t qualified to tell. All the male authors who write their women boobing boobily down the stairs being an obvious case in point. This is how we get the dominance of stories in which the only gay people are having unhappy coming out experiences and dealing with abuse. It’s how we get miracle cure disabled stories, and all kinds of fantasy disability. It gives us bad takes on history, and the thoughtless repetition of racial stereotypes.

Whenever you set out to tell a story, it’s worth asking why you want to tell this particular story in the first place. Also ask what qualifies you to tell it. If the answers involve current writing fashions, or some superficial awareness of the subject that should make it obvious that you are not, at this stage, qualified to tell the story. Good writing involves research, and if you don’t have a rich body of experience to draw on, you can tackle that by dedicating time to finding stuff out.

This is also an issue we can consider as readers. Whose stories do we buy and consume? The creative industries tend to favour white middle class men. Often the depictions we see and read of anyone outside that narrow category, are created from the outside. That increases the risk of prejudice and assumption, or of treating the characters as exotic and other. I don’t want to read stories written by men in which the inside of female heads are dominated by an obsession with their own breasts. I don’t want to read weird middle class fantasies about what poverty might actually be like. 

A weak author tends to assume that everyone is basically like them. Thus they don’t do any work exploring the differences between people. They don’t actually imagine other ways of being in the world, or how experiences different from their own might shape a person, but project bits of themselves and their assumptions into a variety of bodies. This is how we get disabled characters who are only tragic or heroic and women who have emotional melt-downs over broken nails. 

Often, when people are allowed to tell their own stories, what emerges is strikingly different. Queer authors don’t tend to write stories about how hard it is being queer. What you get instead are characters who are queer, who have queer friends and queer relationships and a main story that is about them doing some stuff. Also, happy endings, because people usually want to see people like them wining and that’s sadly lacking when stories are written about ‘the other’. People from the global majority don’t tell stories centered around how hard it is not being white – why would they? 

A good author isn’t simply someone who could tell any story, but is someone who will know what stories they can tell to best effect. A good author writes what they know – and will undertake to make sure they know before they start writing. As a reader, you deserve the work of people who know what they’re talking about, not the misleading fantasies of the empathy-impared.

“Cassandra woke up to the rays of the sun streaming through the slats on her blinds, cascading over her naked chest. She stretched, her breasts lifting with her arms as she greeted the sun. She rolled out of bed and put on a shirt, her nipples prominently showing through the thin fabric. She breasted boobily to the stairs, and titted downwards.”

And you might want to read this much more details and far better referenced article on the limits of how we imagine each other – http://lcfi.ac.uk/news/2018/sep/7/can-we-understand-other-minds-novels-and-stories-s/


Procrastination Projects

There’s no one right way to work as a creative person – and that’s true regardless of whether or not you are selling your work. I’ve never felt comfortable putting all my work-eggs in one basket – it leaves you so vulnerable if something goes wrong. I try to have more than one income stream at all times. Currently my only stable income comes from Patreon, and everything else happens when it does which is a bit unnerving, but I’m making it work.

Some people seem to do very well working on one project at a time in a really focused way. That’s never been me. I usually have a few projects on the go, and at the moment I have a lot of projects. I write for this blog, and The Hopeless Vendetta, I’m working on other Hopeless Maine written content, illustration and live performances. I’m writing a Druidry and the Darkness book over on Patreon, I’m planning a novel, which you get bits and pieces from on this blog. I write two Wherefore episodes a week. I feel a bit over extended at the moment, but less so than I’ve been in the last few years.

One of the great advantages of having many projects on the go, is not getting stuck. I experience block quite a lot. I may run into a wall with a project at any time. But, when that happens I can just put it to one side and move to one of the others. I don’t need a conscious reason, even, sometimes it’s more like procrastinating. But, if I procrastinate on one project by getting another project done, I still win.

I like to have projects on different scales and different time frames. I like to be working in different forms. I like the space to be thinking about what’s next and doing the developmental work – reading around, researching details, world building and so forth. Having various things at different stages means I have more scope to do the work I’m in the mood for. I can just knuckle down and do what needs doing, but I’m happier if I have some space for my whims and inclinations.