Monthly Archives: February 2015

Dead cats and naked bodies

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Two significant events happened on Facebook today. A friend drew my attention to a page advocating the slaughter of feral cats. The page was full of graphic pictures of dead cats, many decapitated. In my opinion, it was violent in the extreme. Along with other posters, I reported the page. The reports were rejected, as the site apparently didn’t breach Facebook’s ‘community standards’.

Another friend, an excellent writer of erotic fiction, posted that she has been told to remove all nude photographs from her adult-only blog site, or risk having the site shut down. Now, erotic fiction isn’t my bag, but I’ve seen the images and they are beautiful. They celebrate the human body. They are not offensive. They are artistic.

Elsewhere on the net, I’ve heard that atheist sites are being shut down because they are deemed to be ‘hate’ sites, aimed at Christians, simply for putting forward a different viewpoint.

So what is the nature of censorship on the internet now? The judgements seem random, but I think that is a generous assessment. Why target adult sites, which are clearly popular and clearly marked as for adult viewers only? The ‘family friendly’ argument doesn’t hold water. There is enough room on the net for all tastes.

Why allow a vicious, violent page to remain, uncensored, when it causes  distress to so many people with the sheer barbarity of its content? I am broadly against censorship, but there have to be some lines we do not cross. Barbarity, especially where it involves the weak, the helpless, those creatures, whether human or otherwise, that cannot defend themselves from evil actions or the celebration of those actions, must be challenged.

I have no answers to these questions, just a growing disquiet concerning the power being wielded by faceless organisations that pull us in with promises of freedom of speech and support for our businesses, only to change the goal posts when we are well and truly hooked.

One more question. If these same organisations would rather give us a the bloodied head of a decapitated cat to look at than a beautifully posed picture of the human form, what does that say about where the internet is heading?

Go Down the Rabbit Hole: A Writer’s Manifesto

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Great advice for all writers.

Writing for Digital Media

1. You are the work. The work is you: both an articulation of the self and a possibility for self-reflection. Be honest in creation: allow yourself to bleed into the work, but also allow it to work on you. Your work can show you things: illuminate and clarify your own thoughts, motivations, actions. If you do it right, you will find the work changing you, too.

2. Thinking is process. Laying on the floor. Sitting on park benches. Getting lost on purpose. These are all working. Learn the difference between mindless distraction and mindful wandering.

3. Go down the rabbit hole. Sometimes the work isn’t about what you think it is. Allow yourself to get lost down alleyways, to follow a train of thought around a corner. Don’t feel you need to reign yourself in. Too much focus squeezes all the possibility for revelation out of the work.

4. Fear…

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Forcing the focus

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Focus is a wonderful thing. I’m an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person, so I’m either totally focused or there are enough butterflies in my head to trigger a fair-sized tropical storm. I’m realising that focus is definitely a double-edged sword. It can be my best friend  (when I’ve got a deadline to meet), or my worst enemy (when I can’t see the wood for the trees).

Forcing a sense of focus isn’t that hard – like most things it’s a learned skill, similar in process to a meditative state, a narrowing down of thought processes – a funnel through which concentration, ideas, some skill and sheer bloody-mindedness somehow fuse together to produce a half-worthwhile first draft.

I can sit at my laptop, induce a sense of focus and write a few hundred words.  If the words are non-fiction – the bread and butter stuff that actually earns me something – there isn’t a problem. But if I want to write good prose, something original and potentially mind-blowing ( I live in hopes of this happening) then forcing the focus is counter productive. I’m writing the first draft of this in a noisy bar, in a proper notebook with a pen in my hand and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc close by. I had no intention of putting pen to paper here, and I certainly didn’t feel the need to focus on anything but lunch. Then I had something of a lightbulb moment….

All my writing life I’ve beaten myself with the stick of discipline. Daily word targets and schedules, on the days when I’m free to write, have been the drivers of my industry. I think I’ve got it wrong.

I took out my pad and pen to write a list of all the little research tasks I want to accomplish in the next couple of weeks. Read some fairy tales (unusual stories in a lovely slender book with tissue-thin pages that I found in a flea market). Research minor Victorian cults and goddess images. I caught myself thinking about the time I would need to do all this as a guilty pleasure. Fire burning in the hearth, cups of coffee, feet up on the sofa, tucked under a blanket, books and notebooks all around. And I realised I needed to embrace this part of my work, to dive into it and swim through other writers’ words without guilt, without rushing through the experience.

Research, just reading, thinking, living – just being – these things aren’t a distraction from the writing, from the focus. They are the writing. Without them, words are sterile. Good fiction comes from interpreted experience, and life isn’t a sideshow that happens when I’m not writing. Life IS the writing.

My ‘focus’ is a contradiction – a distraction from what really matters. I need to take my time, spend some days in unproductive endeavours. It is from here, not from some imposed discipline, that my best writing will emerge. A couple of posts back, I wrote about ‘true words’. I had no idea how to find them. Perhaps,after all, they will find me.

The difference a day makes.

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Over thirty years ago an envelope dropped through my letter box, and the contents changed the direction of my life. It was my first acceptance from a woman’s magazine for a short story. The floodgates seemed to open after that, with articles, stories, even poetry, all accepted by various newspapers and magazines. But I always remember opening that first acceptance, the lightness of it indicating there wasn’t a returned manuscript inside. I remember the sheer joy of first success. No acceptance since has ever come close to that feeling. Until yesterday.

There was no flutter of the letter box, no weighing up the envelope in my hands before opening. Just an email, waiting in the queue for me to read. I knew what it was, and convinced myself it was bad news, to soften the blow of rejection. (That never works, but it’s a habit I’ve developed over the years.)

It wasn’t a rejection, but a charming acceptance of my short story for use in an anthology. What made it so special was the change of genre. This is the first gaslight short story I’ve written. I didn’t know if it was any good, although I loved writing it, and I loved reading it when it was finished.

Yesterday I sat in front of a blank screen, wondering if I should even bother with fiction writing. Maybe sticking to articles was the way to go. The problem with that is that the ideas don’t go away, they just keep scratching away at the back of my mind until I release them on to the page to frolic and scheme and cause all sorts of mayhem.

Today I am once again a confident fiction writer, thinking about the sequel to my finished novel, allowing the ideas for short fiction a breath of fresh air – just enough to get them moving. Confidence is a strange thing – totally divorced from reality. With the range of fiction and non-fiction I’ve written over the years, and the quantity of published work to my name, one acceptance shouldn’t make much difference. But it does. Today, I feel like a new writer with her first acceptance – enthusiastic, creative and hopeful. What a difference a day makes.

True words

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“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”  Ernest Hemingway.

This quote was posted on my FB timeline a couple of days ago. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Don’t we all try to write the truth, our own truth? Then I really started thinking about the words – and wondered what a ‘true sentence’ really is.

Perhaps it’s not about the truth of what I write, the bare facts. It’s about how I choose to write it. The truth of the sentence is in the words themselves, and if one word is wrong, the sentence will not be true.

I don’t agonise over every word I write. I see and hear things in my imagination and somehow my hand transcribes the thoughts into the written word. I don’t think in words, I think in images. And as the image emerges on the page I take the words for granted, as long as they describe what I need them to describe.

Of course, as I edit and proof read, I look at the words – grammar, syntax, how I could say things better. But I don’t think I consider every word, weigh it and ask if it is absolutely right. Perhaps this is what Hemingway advised – the weighing of every word, the position of every word in relation to others, until the written sentence is as good as it can be – until it holds its own truth in the care that has been taken in its construction, in the rightness of each element, a finely honed creation.