Reviewed but not rested

lynsey may kapow

Me at Kapow pretending I like Dr Who

It’s been one jam-packed old weekend. Chumming Ink to London for Kapow was good fun, but less restful than I probably could have done with. On the bright side, we caught up with some pretty awesome and creative people – and I also managed to pick up some of those freckles that mean summer is near.

Even better, on the train to London I was checking Twitter on my phone (sorry Ink, I know I do that too often) and I saw that Scott Pack had reviewed my story for the Fiction Desk anthology as part of his reviewing-a-short-story-everyday-for-a-year project. A walloping couple of heartbeats later, and I was very relived to see it was a positive one. He said:

“This is a well observed piece of writing. Uncomfortable and unsettling.” Which is how I like to think of myself. Well, as a writer anyway, not in person obviously. This put a nice spin on the weekend for me, good thing seeing as opportunities to sleep or even sit down were few and far between.

Now I’m back, I’ve got a little catching up and a whole load of writing to do (maybe I should just take long train journeys for no reason, they seem to be good for inspiration). Maybe I just need to check my blog feed first though, everyone else seems to have been pretty busy this weekend too…

Morality drugs a reality, real life encroaching on fiction

I love reading Sci Fi, but it’s a genre I haven’t had much luck writing in. Mainly because I find it too hard to come up with the kind of plots I think are creative enough. Turns out, I should have worried about it, real life is weird enough.

Yesterday I was reading this Guardian article about a new round of drugs with the potential to manipulate morality, and I found myself checking the date. But no, April 1st really is well and gone. In my mind, this is a terrifying concept, and conjures up snatches of all the dystopian literature I’ve ever read.

To be honest, I don’t want to enhance human capacities with chemicals – even if it could make the world a better place. What I’d really like if for people to try harder to be decent. To that end, I like the thought that art is a gateway to making that effort. Screw your morality pills, I’d rather sit down with an iPod, some gorgeous prints and a few good books.

Writer’s envy: getting it back in the box

I hate to admit it, because I want to be able to pretend I am an all round good person, but there have been plenty of times I’ve been eaten up by envy. There are hundreds of thousands of writers out there and a good whack of them have turned me into a slinking, green eyed beast at some point.

But you know what? I think a little jealousy can be a good thing – as long as you’re not bitter about it and you know when to put a cap on it. After all, if I hadn’t read passages that made me think ‘shit, if only I could write like that,’ I doubt I’d have worked so hard on the writing I have done.

If I hadn’t ever opened a best seller and wondered what the writer had that I didn’t, I could have missed out on experimenting with a bunch of different styles until I found a few that fit. And if I hadn’t seen my contemporaries making names for themselves, I might not have dragged myself off my ass long enough to start trying to do the same for myself.

anti drama monkey

The Anti-Drama Monkey

The other thing is, the harder I’ve been working at all of these things, and the more writers I’ve been meeting, the less jealousy I’ve been experiencing. Why is that? It’s not down to any major massive best selling success on my part. Instead, I think it’s because I don’t feel frustrated as all hell most of the time and because the majority of writers I’ve met have been really very lovely people, who I want to see doing well.

I’m not going to lie and say I never feel just a teeny bit jealous every now and then, I hang around with a lot of very talented people after all, but I know when to put those feelings back in the box. Sometimes a little chocolate and a few drinks are needed to tempt it in there, but it’s all for the greater good!

Balancing a blamanche on a stick (or squeezing a writing life into a regular one)

Writing is awesome. There’s a bit of a moan about several things up ahead, so I wanted to start off this post reiterating that.

That feeling when a story starts to finally come together? Priceless.
The moments when you’re trying to cram writing into a life that’s already fit burst? Fairly expensive.

So the writing part still feels great, but all the time you’re busy doing other, less enjoyable, so often seems to add up to far more. I’m so jealous of anyone who’s managed to hit a good balance here, who doesn’t feel as though they are propping their life up on a stick and watching it slop and slide about to threaten to fall off in one big pink, gooey explosion.

This girl’s gotta work and, most recently, do stuff like organise a new place to live. And then there’s the need to at least making a passing appearance at social functions every now and then. As well as checking in with the family to prove continued existence. Of course, if you’ve got your own kids this list must just multiply like crazy.

But it’s not only non-writing tasks that eat into your precious time-savings, there’s also all those hours that might go into a website, blog or online network, as well as the actual real life literary meet-ups that crop up every now and then.

Between living a relatively normal life and trying to make a few friends in the writing world, it’s pretty difficult to find time to do that awesome thing you’re always wanting to do. But it’s not like there’s much room for cutting back – you already turn down a bunch of invites, you need to pay your rent and if you don’t go to any lit events you’re not doing a great job of supporting the cause.

Portrait of a busy girl

It’s been another busy week in the land of Lynsey, what with trips to London and nasty work deadlines, so I haven’t done any of the things I should have. Nothing has been packed yet, not one story has been revised since last weekend and I’ve barely written anything new all week. So what did I do last night when I got back into town? Doodled instead, typical! I have to say though, after re-discovering charcoal a wee while ago I’ve remembered how much I like drawing.

Lynsey May self portrait charcoal

As you can see, this is not the most finished of pictures and I had to take a photo rather than a scan, but still, I’d say this portrait is a good example of my grumpiness levels when I’ve not had enough time for reading, writing or seeing my most lovely friends. I’m not really sulking though, I’m still too happy about the way various things are working out at the moment. Also, I have a massive stack of new books and comics to read this weekend – yay!

Five things writing has done for me

Sometimes, writing gets a hard rap. I mean, it can be a lonely and thankless kind of pursuit – especially if you haven’t started submitting or sharing your stuff yet – and there tends to be a lot of self doubt and musing mixed in. But it ain’t all bad. In fact, it can be pretty amazing.

I’ve put together a little list of the things I think writing has done for me, aside from personal satisfaction and an occasional pat on the back, in a practical sense.

1. Widening horizons

Reading had done a pretty good job of this anyway, but there’s nothing like wanting to write for forcing you out of your comfort zone. Instead of only reading the books I’m pretty sure I’m going to like, I read a huge variety of stuff from different genres, emerging writers and different age groups. And that’s not even including the research that goes into some stories. (Yes, I do count five hours reading all news stories I can find about talking dogs online as research ok.)

2. Making friends

Loads of people enjoy writing and even more enjoy reading. Getting chatting to them online has shown me your friends don’t have to have the same tastes as you to be great folks. You’ve already got something in common, so it’s easier to skip the ‘what’s your favourite band’ chat and move straight onto things you’re desperate to share.

3. Eating alone

Thanks to what must equate to months and months spent scribbling in notebooks in a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants, I can happily order, eat and sit staring into space on my own pretty much anywhere. Doesn’t sound like much maybe, but when I think back to how shy I was as a teenager I reckon this has been a bit of an asset – for my self confidence if not my general diet.

4. Developing a scrawl

I write by hand so often that I think my handwriting may have evolved into something else. Unless I’m concentrating, it’s barely legible. This has two benefits. One, I can take notes very quickly. Two, no one else can really make head or tail of them.

5. Word appreciation

I appreciate words and beautifully constructed sentences 100 times more now I know how difficult it can be to choose or craft them. Look how much I love the name of this street – would I have loved it quite as much had I never sat down to try and craft a masterpiece? Only the potatoes know.

So that’s five reasons for now, I’m sure there are more but my lunch break is pretty much over. Got any plus points to share?

I best start packing the books!

At last! The mortgage papers have been signed, the solicitor has been paid, and now I’m technically on track for buying my new flat! All I really have to do in the next few weeks is try to not accidentally get arrested or go bankrupt. Of course, I’ll also have to start packing – and that means booking up all of those hundreds of books, again.

I’ve moved house about three times for every two years since I left home at 17. I’m getting pretty good at packing. The only problem is, the older I get, the larger my collection of books. I’d say that for every 30 books that come over my threshold, one might end up with a charity shop – the rest I just can’t bear to part with. Good for my collection, bad for my back when moving.

This time though, I’ll be moving and knowing I’m planning to stay for a good long while, I’ll be able to luxuriate in sorting them out and re-homing them all (and I plan to buy some new shelves so they don’t end up stacked on the floor like they so often have).

many books on shevles and stacked on the floor.

A small selection of my messy books

I am so excited, although ever so slightly scared of jinxing it…. so, shh, I never told you about this new flat right? The last few months of 2010 may have dragged by excruciatingly slowly as I waited for one thing or another to be resolved, but this year has been one wild ride so far.

Blurbondency: how do you react to bamboozling book blurbs?

Blurbondency - The feeling of let down and confusion that follows reading a book because it has a blurb from one of your favourite authors, only to find the book disappointing and unreadable. Self doubt and a re-examination of bookshelves is also to be expected.

Blurbs are powerful things. They act as the same kind of seal of approval you’re looking for when you’re eyeing up a potential date. I’ve picked up and taken home plenty of books thanks to a few words of praise from one of my favourite authors – but you can’t always count on a blurb when you’re choosing what to snuggle up with at night.

Recently I read a book I just couldn’t get into. I could see it wasn’t awful, I could see it had some merit, but there were parts of it that really stuck in my craw. I sat contemplating the cover, and noticed it had blurbs from no fewer than three of my favourite authors. A strange mixture of feelings quickly arose. Confusion – were they talking about the same book? Self doubt – can’t I even tell a good book when I look at it? Shaken faith – are my favourite writers not the all-knowing beings I hoped they were?

Ultimately, I know that when judging books – as with all other art forms – there’s a great deal of subjectivity involved. You say tomato, I say pulpy, soppy trash. But that won’t stop me from suffering a good dose of blurbondency when the book and the blurb just don’t seem to fit.

When is a book not a book?

As technology grows ever snazzier, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to work out exactly what the word ‘book’ defines. Back when I was a kid that was a pretty easy question to work out. A book was a collection of pages bound together, normally with a pretty picture on the cover. True, some books were made of cloth and some were even waterproof and inflatable (I wish you could get those bath time books for adults), but they were all essentially the same thing.

Then there were audio books and story tapes, and these were a little trickier to classify, but it wasn’t much of a problem, seeing as you’d naturally assume there was a solid, paper book present during the creation of the tape – they had to be reading the story from something after all.

The movement of stories from paper and print to pixels muddied the water slightly, but when I think of ebooks, I still think of something that resembles a physical book. In my mind, it’s just a digital representation of those paper creations I know and love – whether it’s a whole book on my laptop or a short story on Ether, it’s still a ‘book’ to me.

But yesterday I saw a news story about Penguin’s new book for babies, which seems to be an interactive story experience on the iPad for the teeny ones, and I started wondering when you reached the point where a book was no longer a book. True, many children’s books are interactive – from those cute ones with spaces for finger puppets to pop up varieties – but then, so are plenty of video games.

Getting stuck into a console based game such as Final Fantasy or Fable isn’t considered the same thing as reading a book, and I definitely don’t think it should be, but there’s plenty of storytelling – and generally reading involved in these experiences.

So, if playing games like those are considered something very separate from reading a book, where do you draw the line when it comes to the new, multimedia offerings that are being branded as books these days? I’m thinking of things like the new Penguin release, or Ann Rice’s ebook experiment, or any of the other new developments that combine traditional books with new technology to make something new. When does a book stop being a book? Or does the word book just have a totally different meaning these days?

I don’t do resolutions, so I’ll say cheers instead

Calvin and Hobbes New Year Resolutions

Calvin has something like the right idea...

Who knows what age I was when I first decided New Year resolutions did me no good (I suspect somewhere around the age I was still finding out what real hangover felt like), but I was pleased enough with the decision to make sure I’ve made none since.

Too cynical to believe I’d stick to something for more than a week, I gave up resolutions as a way to avoid disappointment, but that’s not to say I stopped setting goals for myself – I just like to keep them fluid. I think it’s something to do with accountability. While a deadline will get me working like nothing else, high expectations for myself from myself are more likely to stall me before I even manage to get started.

So I’m not joining the blogosphere in sharing my attempts to; lose weight, stop eating chocolate, write a blog everyday or publish x number of stories this year, instead I’m going to say thanks to some of the literary folks who helped me achieve some of the things that would have been resolutions last year, had I made any.

Cheers to The Stinging Fly, The Fiction Desk, Ether Books, 4’33″, Forest Publications and Bugged for making this one of the best years I’ve ever had when it comes to writing. While I may still be a fair bit off being where I want to be writing-wise, 2010 was a turning point in many ways – mainly because the acceptance, support or encouragement from these various individuals or organisations showed me there was plenty to write for yet.

Hope you all had an excellent New Year with plenty more adventures to come.