This Will Be a Great Year of Writing… in a Week

2017 will be a great year for writing, I can feel it in my bones. I don’t just mean the rise of writing as political protest more generally, around the world, but for me personally. (Yes, forgive me, I am shallow and self-centred this time round.)

And this week has been a little microcosm of that.

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It’s a long road ahead, but Voltaire is there to guide me… even at a distance.

First of all, as the title of my blog indicates, the greatest challenge I face as a writer is simply finding the bladidah time to write! So I joined the 5 day writing challenge on Prolifiko, a productivity coaching website aimed specifically at procrastinating writers such as myself. The idea being that by sticking to your resolutions for five days, and being held to account over them, you will develop new habits and will want to continue. My resolution has been a very simple one: to write for one hour a day 6 days a week (7 if I can manage it).

It may seem ridiculous that I cannot commit to writing more at this moment in time, when I am not working and while the children are in school from 8:30 to 15:30 every day. But I am also job hunting, doing some freelance work, reviewing, doing tax returns for two countries, doing housework, sorting out tricky financials and having discussions with solicitors etc. etc. By ‘writing’, I do not mean blogging or book reviews or HR articles or cover letters for job applications, but actual creative writing. Poetry, novel, short story.

So far, so good. I set my alarm for 12 noon and then scribble away blissfully for an hour. I find it works best if I have a combination of older work to edit and then allow myself to play around with ideas and words to bring out some fresh stuff. It certainly never feels like a chore, which confirms my impression that I would be the world’s happiest little writer, if only I didn’t have to do all the other boring bits in life.

Secondly, I’ve tried to apply for jobs I might actually enjoy (typically, those that have to do with books) rather than jobs that will merely pay the bills. Hopefully, I will eventually find one which meets both criteria, but in the meantime it has made the application process a little more fun. Organising a Meet the Agents/Publishers event for Geneva Writers Group in February is also highly energising and much more exciting than running workshops on workforce planning or business strategy.

Thirdly, I submitted a translation sample for a competition (German to English) and have also been in touch about translating crime fiction from Romanian into English. Fingers crossed! The next best thing after writing yourself is to be able to present other writers’ work to a new audience.

Fourth, I have three poems featured today on the literary site Clear Poetry (one I have always enjoyed reading and to which I had previously submitted unsuccessfully). The sound of my own voice makes me cringe a little, but there is audio of me reading the poems too, if you can bear to listen. The moral of the tale: if at first you get rejected, do submit again!

Fifth, I attended a fun-packed book launch  and talked to other writers about their writing process and publication journey, and it helped reset my energy and optimism buttons.

Sixth, I have decided to launch the #EU27Project for reading literature from all of the remaining countries of the EU. The response has been fantastic, and I would invite anyone to join in, whether you can read just one or two or all 27. It’s a project very dear to my heart. Call me a sentimental old idealist, but I was really hoping the European dream would come true. Now I see it in danger of going down in flames, it saddens me. I’ve never belonged to any country in particular, but I do belong to one continent: Europe.

To end on a hopeful note...
To end on a hopeful note…

 

 

Haibun: Things I’m Done With

I’m done with swashbuckling pirates or panthers, that faint gleam of danger to hasten the pulse and pinprick the senses. Where winds sweep dry, offer me water, not desert fire. Where waters swirl deep, offer me bridges, not islands.
Give me slow, earthy kindness: spilt fruit of joint labours. I open the window and wait for new breeze.

A plant with deep roots
that can catch my tumbleweed
rest sweet for a while.

Tumbleweed caught in a fence, from National Geographic.
Tumbleweed caught in a fence, from National Geographic. Not the kind of rest I mean…

I’m linking this to Haibun Monday prompt at dVerse Poets Pub. If you want a very good explanation of what a haibun is and does, please visit the Pub and check out all the great examples of prose-poems linked in there.

Writing Plans – Past and Present

I had big writing plans for 2016, in spite of the changes that I knew were coming: the move to the UK, the separation, the job-hunting. I was going to finish my WIP and send it through to a mentor for feedback and structural edits. I was going to publish enough poems to be able to fill a collection and start sending it around to poetry publishers. Of course, I was going to continue blogging, both here and on the Geneva Writers’ Group blog, plus all the reviewing and contributing behind the scenes to dVerse Poets Pub and other sites.

Eh, well, no! None of that happened.

Picture credited to Gypsy Rose Lee, 1941: Women at Typewriter
Picture credited to Gypsy Rose Lee, 1941: Women at Typewriter

I struggled to put pen to paper with my novel: the subject matter just felt too close to certain things which I was experiencing, so I kept putting it off. I did make some progress on it during the wonderful writing retreat in Burgundy (about 10,000 words’ worth of progress), but after that it all got very quiet again. It now languishes at the mid-way mark, about 50,000 words or so. However, the screenwriting workshop I went on last Saturday, run by Resource Productions has given me a new appetite for tackling it. I don’t expect to turn it into a screenplay (I don’t know enough about film-making for that), but I can approach it in a new way, perhaps storyboarding, photography etc., so that I finally get the story out of me. Then at least I have some raw material to work with, instead of just having a jumble in my brain. I also discovered the scriptwriting software Final Draft, which may be helpful for structuring thought and writing for novels too (but it’s darn expensive).

I did send out some poems but not in any systematic way. Although a few were accepted, I still don’t have a decent enough bunch to fill a whole volume. I did send out a selection of about 20 for two separate chapbook competitions, but was unsuccessful in both of those. However, I did have a great spurt of poetry in October, when I visited my friends in Provence and some of those poems are amongst the best things I’ve written to date. I seem to have made a bit of a creative jump onto the next step in my progression, and I really hope this is permanent rather than just temporary.

As for reviewing and blogging, I’ve been rather lax with that, at least when it comes to other websites. I’ve cut down on my commitments to reviewing, the Geneva Writers’ Group (no more newsletters, only very occasional blogging), dVerse Poets Pub (no more hosting, only occasional visits). I don’t like doing this, mind. These were some of the most fun activities I was engaging in – but I felt I could not do them justice when they were constantly jostling with other dull but necessary aspects of my life.

This week, just before the Christmas holidays (during which I will take a break from everything but reading), I tried to finish off a couple of projects I wanted to send off in early January. Alas, my Microsoft Office documents seem to be having trouble opening up and saving. I also hear that Yahoo accounts have been compromised. Hurrah, more technological woe to sort out… it will be back to pen and notebooks or semaphore code and smoke signals for me.

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Haibun: A Good Night

It’s the last Haibun Monday of the year and we have all week to link to dVerse Poets’ prompt of a good night, a preparation for this time of year when it’s dark outside but hopefully we find some comfort, warmth and light inside. It’s hard to stay cheerful when I know so many are bombed out of their homes and find no comfort at all, but I cannot miss the last prompt of the year, especially since our host is the lovely Toni, whose mother is currently very, very ill. So here is my memory of a Swiss celebration, the descent of the cows to the valley in autumn.

Desalpe in Fribourg, from myswitzerland.com
Desalpe in Fribourg, from myswitzerland.com

This being Switzerland, of course, we stop at midnight on the dot, but before that it’s all song and games. With apple on dapple cows, boys and girls equally handsome and flag-bearing. In the tent they throw up tables, cheerful chatter, out pops another bench. Communal prancing, booted feet, fun triumphs over grace. Stocky white sausages smoke on the grill, and the wine is hot and spicy, the apple juice well mulled. Children toddle freely to try out the Alpenhorn and the bovine flower crowns. Dogs wait under tables, so well-behaved we nearly forget they are there, until we step on their tails.

Promptly at first dawn

the field forgets our presence –

paper flowers cleared.

 

 

 

 

Yet Another Best of 2016 Reading List

I’ll stick to the books this time and make no comments about other aspects of 2016. But even so, I have to admit it’s been a bit of an atypical year. I’ve read 167 books, Goodreads tells me, and have a couple more weeks to reach 170 or so.

But it’s not a race.

I’ve had moments of furious reading, and some months of disruption, when reading was in scarce supply. The proportion of crime fiction seems to be lower than in other years. My Top 5 Reviewed Crime Reads will appear as usual on the Crime Fiction Lover site, so I thought I would look at other books here on my blog, particularly those which were released before 2016.

I wonder if the format for reading them also added to their memorability: most of the ones featured were physical books (only four were e-books).

A few of my favourites... and the challenges of English vs. Continental book spines.
A few of my favourites… and the challenges of English vs. Continental book spines.

 

My overall percentage of translated fiction was perhaps roughly 40%, and the books in this category have proved memorable and contributed considerably to my ‘best of’ list (8 out of 17). Likewise, I may feel that I don’t read as much poetry and non-fiction as I would like to, but they tend to stick with me and so appear quite a bit on the list. 10 out of the 17 books were written by women, 10 of these were published before 2016.

It’s been an emotional year, so I’ve gone for visceral response rather than careful analysis of literary merits.  However, most of the books below show evidence of both. Sadly, not all of them have been given the review they deserve. I’ve found that I often struggle to review those books which have meant most to me and which I want to reread. For those I haven’t reviewed, I just give a short quote from the book itself.

Poetry:

Tiphanie Yanique: Wife

Laura Kasischke author photo from Babelio.fr
Laura Kasischke author photo from Babelio.fr

Laura Kasischke: The Infinitesimals

Small boy running through the center of the park, un-

zipping summer straight down the middle as he runs until

all the small boys come tumbling out.

 

wigboxDorothy Nimmo: The Wigbox

My voice is strangled. I’m awake. I shout

I know there’s something I must do today

and I can’t do it. You must write me out.

It’s not my part and this is not my play.

Sharon Olds: The Wellspring

Non-Fiction:

Antoine Leiris: You Will Not Have My Hate

Asne Seierstad: One of Us

Elif Shafak: Black Milk

Olivia Laing: The Lonely City

uninvitedCrime Fiction:

Colin Niel: Ce qui reste en foret

Liz Jensen: The Uninvited

Pascal Garnier: Too Close to the Edge

Other Fiction:

Sarah Moss: Signs for Lost Children

Romain Gary: Promesse de l’aube

Romain Gary with his mother, from the Lithuanian State Archive
Romain Gary with his mother, from the Lithuanian State Archive

I had no right to refuse her help. The myth of my future was what kept her alive. For the time being, I had to swallow my pride and continue my race against time, to try and keep my promise towards her, to give her absurd and tender dreams some reason for being… I don’t feel guilty about that. But if you find that my books are cries for dignity and justice, if they all talk to such an extent about human decency, it’s perhaps because until the age of 22, I lived off the back of an exhausted and ill woman. I owe her so much.

Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall

Jenny Erpenbeck: Gehen ging gegangen

Julian Barnes: The Noise of Time

Patrick Ness: A Monster Calls

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journey of a Poem: Part 2

At the beginning of October, I share the first draft of a poem which, in all fairness, was more of a rant. In the meantime, I’ve shared it with my beloved poetry mentor in Provence, Karen McDermott, and also read it out at my local writing group, so I’ve had some feedback and made some changes.

editing2

One major area of reader concern was that I need to make it clearer from the outset that there are two people involved in the poem: a couple quarrelling. The other suggestion was to include more ‘out’ words, like outshine, outrun, outdo. I took both of those onboard.

I also decided that one whole stanza, the one with the invalid in bed expecting to be waited upon hand and foot, didn’t work very well (although it was what triggered the furious poem initially). So that came out and I reworked some of the other ideas, extending them into stanzas of their own.  The passwords and apps in the first stanza became much more about a certain type of masculinity which uses technology as a weapon and rolls his eyes when women are not interested in constantly playing with gadgets. The scientific depth became more of a weapon of derision in its own ‘mansplaining’ stanza. The Facebook foxiness and offshore squirreling references became more obviously financial with the introduction of a game of Monopoly.

monopoly

So here’s the second/third draft. The fourth stanza is deliberately longer than the others, which are all composed of four lines. It’s the break in patterns which makes things interesting. As Laura Kasischke said during her masterclass: ‘If I were in the hands of a poet who obviously has no idea where line breaks occur, just chops up a piece of prose into shorter lines, then a break in pattern is random, but if it’s a poet you can trust then you can see it’s deliberate and it adds to the meaning.’ That longer stanza marks how endless the Christmas season can seem when you are trapped in the house with someone lacking empathy and determined to always be in the right.

Outwit with passwords
you outgun me
fat on apps, encrypted accounts,
grin at attempts to follow your technology

Outrun me in the gym
keep yourself trim
belly sucked in and crow superior
while flab won’t cease to haunt me

Facebook foxiness masks
offshore squirreling
in a Monopoly game where
you outdo my every move

Holiday season and you outfrown
my anxious hiccups
drowning out conversational gambits
with incontrovertible evidence
well-placed asides
oh that scientific depth

Outmother me, won’t you,
all laughter and mad tickling
masking the many hours of boredom
which you refused to partake

Soon you will outsource me
but still keep allure of long-distance parenting
Swiss chocolate vs. squished pies
drowned in bitter custard.

piecustard

I’ve not added much punctuation to the original, but am wondering if it might be more effective to have a large first letter for each stanza, especially if it’s all O, like in an illuminated medieval manuscript. Or is that too artificial? I’d have to change stanzas 3 and 4 to start with O, but can leave the last one as is, for more of a contrast and resolution.

Now for the most difficult thing: the title. I vaguely thought of ‘Outnumbered’, or ‘Outfoxed’, but other possibilities include ‘Outlier’ or ‘On the Way Out’ or ‘Getting Out’. But I am not sure that insisting on the repetition of ‘out’ in the title isn’t overkill. What do you think?

Old Pal Poetry and Capricious Prose

When I thought about the different effect that prose and poetry have on me, and how I feel about writing both, it surprised me to discover that I used the pronouns ‘she’ for prose and ‘he’ for poetry. At this moment in real life, I seek out female companionship, which I find more nurturing, but in writing I seem to find a home in poetry when I am unable to write prose.  I wonder what Jung would make of that?

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Prose taunts and haunts me – she blows hot and cold. Sometimes I love her to bits, sometimes I feel close to strangling her. I can never approach  her unprepared. She requires, nay, she demands a lot of love and attention; I often don’t have the time to give her all that she deserves. Then she neglects me, slams the door in my face, throws a tantrum. I spend weeks, even months, trying to woo her back, but there is no sign of life from her capricious majesty.

She is also the mistress of comparisons. She has no qualms about telling me that her other suitors are better, tidier, more organised, more romantic, more dashing, more, more, more…

I have tried to flirt with her younger sister, Short Story, or her niece, Flash Fiction, but it’s Prose the Novel whom I love best. She knows it, I know it. No amount of success with the others would ever make up for the loss of her.

Poetry is my refuge when Prose refuses to cooperate.

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When I cannot find the words, Poetry takes over like an old chum. Knows me best, understands the unspoken, the wildest metaphors and similes. I say a carrot is like a star and Poetry smiles in his gentle, light-filled way and only ever replies: ‘Why not?’

Poetry is the one who soothes my nightmares, unknots the wrinkles on my face and in my mind. He encourages me to discover myself, and if I don’t come back with answers… well, so what? He’ll still be there for me.