The idea of the writing process is often talked about in creative writing literature. Whatever your take on it, writing well and consistently requires hard work and dedication. Halo not polished enough in my case, but I do know that magical thinking is not enough! Writer Kathleen Jones invited me to follow her in the ‘writing process blog tour’, to give some insight into my own writing processes. Diligent or not, I will attempt to put some of my own methods into words, based on the four core questions of the blog tour.
But first, thank you to Kathleen Jones for suggesting me. Kathleen is an award-winning poet, biographer, fiction writer and journalist. I can recommend her latest biography: Norman Nicholson – The Whispering Poet.
1. What am I working on?
I write short stories and poems and have novels in preparation, so I am working at all kinds of things at once – including collections of short fiction and poetry. My most recent publication, a chapbook, Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers, was published by Nightjar Press in 2013. Another story of mine, Winding Starlight, will appear in Tears in the Fence this spring.
I have three novels in the works. Most advanced is my ‘Middle East’ novel, set in the nineteen-sixties, concerning a teenage girl growing up on a naval base, isolated from normal life. There are some extracts and vignettes in this blog, and earlier short stories in my Kindle ‘triplet’ of short stories, This Heat, also explores the theme. I have a contemporary novel that I am re-evaluating, so won’t say too much about that, and – tentatively – another, set in a future where human beings are integrated with machines, and the line that separates natural and artificial life has become blurred.
2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I do not actively set out to write in a genre. My mind is open as I begin a piece of work. Only when I develop a relationship with the text, do I see a possible form emerge, and try and go with it. I don’t like to label a work as a particular genre as it affects how it is read, by setting up expectations for the reader. I regard my fiction as ‘literary’, and my work to date is often realistic, character-led, but with widely varying style.
Some of my stories could be thought of as ‘ghost stories’. The Widower (on this blog and in my collection Familiar Possessions) could be seen in this way, but there are other interpretations. Another story, The Rhododendron Canopy was included by Nicholas Royle in an anthology of ‘uncanny ‘short stories (Murmurations by Two Ravens Press). My chapbook story, Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers was written as an unsettling short story, but was considered sufficiently chilling to be included in the Salt anthology Best British Horror 2014, edited by Johnny Mains, and has been reviewed by others under the horror genre.
Despite the temptation of the dark side, I often inject humour into my writing, and have written several pieces that could be considered humorous, even if darkly so.
The bottom line – I am not prescriptive and my writing style is varied as a consequence. Don’t expect the same formula every time! I leave the reader to decide if it is a ‘genre’ piece.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Perhaps if I knew that, I would not write about it. Writing for me is an exploration of the lived experience as well as an artistic expression. I am fascinated by people, how they are made, how they operate within societies and are perceived by others.
4. How does your writing process work?
I get a niggle or a spark – from a memory, or a found object, an experience, a smell or a piece of music. All kinds of things. Then I write and see. Often I will not like it much. I try and avoid the temptation to edit too soon. Just let it develop and hopefully surprise myself. Sometimes I write by computer, and sometimes by hand – very untidily – most of my poems start out as hand scribbles, but I like to get the measure of them musically on the page. I am strongly influenced by the sound of the writing and I read my work aloud – including the prose – to get the rhythm of it.
If I am barren of ideas sometimes music helps to loosen up my creativity, or I’ll do some mundane job around the house. Physical activity is an effective way of helping with blank page panic.
I always leave my work to ferment in a dark place for days, weeks, sometimes years, until it makes some kind of sense to me as a reader. I have to get over hating it or liking it too much. It has to become material for editing, not just text. It is the shaping that makes the piece.
I find that my writing is influenced by physical senses – of the body, if you like – and I let it infuse into my work. Once, an editor told me that a story gave him a sense of malaise. I was pleased by this, as I had written the story thinking of how I felt when I had morning sickness, and my character was possibly pregnant. But he didn’t take the story…
The language I use will have a resonant texture that relates to the work and the character(s). I don’t write necessarily for lyrical effect. My texts are usually spare and – like Mary Poppins – I have a maxim ‘Never explain anything’. I dislike heavy explication and yards of back-story, and use different narrative structural techniques, and style, tone, rhythm and language to add a subconscious level to a narrative. Setting is very important as it provides context and reaction space for the characters.
I like puns and playing with words that evoke more than the primary meaning. And also visually. Winding Starlight has a contextual pun, but you’ll have to read Tears in the Fence to find out. My character’s names too, are carefully chosen (or not named at all). Sometimes I choose the name for its sound, or its placement of the character. Occasionally I tease with names that have other meanings. Mrs Wetherby (on this blog site) is a case in point, although it is not necessary to know the actual meaning of the name to understand the story. To help with writing a character I sometimes think of someone I once met, or an actor in a certain role to give me a feeling for their behaviour – the way they move and speak, how it would be if they came into a room.
Readers often mistake a writer’s work for autobiography. There may be autobiographical elements in my writing, but only in that I use a lived experience, be it a setting, an event, a person I have encountered, or a feeling I have had. Lived experience is authentic. This is what writing is all about. It should get under the skin of a reader.
Following me on the blog tour are three distinctive writers – Sophie Duffy, Marion Husband and Simon Sylvester – have kindly agreed to share their experience of the writing process. Their posts will appear on 27th January. In the meantime, do visit their excellent blogs:
is a novelist who writes about modern family life and relationships. The Generation Game and This Holey Life are both published by Legend Press. She blogs at http://sophieduffy.wordpress.com
whose trilogy of novels, featuring the troubled First World War veteran Paul Harris, has consistently topped best-seller lists in both the UK and the USA. She received a Northern Writers Award for her forth-coming novel Now the Day is Over and is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Newcastle University. She blogs from: http://www.marionhusband.com/blog/
is a writer, teacher and occasional filmmaker. He has written more than a thousand very short stories on Twitter, and his first novel, The Visitors, will be published by Quercus Books in June 2014. He writes about metamorphosis, memories, folktales and threshold places. He blogs from: http://simonsylvester.wordpress.com