It’s a tough one to answer, partly because I don’t think about the process very much and also because there isn’t just one place where ideas are floating around and we writers gather with our butterfly nets and haul them in. At least, I’m saying there is no such place, if there is let me know, it will make things a whole lot easier.
One of the joys of social media is the fellow authors you bump into. Today I’m delighted to have Jane Holland along to visit my site. A prolific and talented author and poet she has had numerous books published over the years, under various pen names, including around 30 novels. She’s also the only novelist I’ve ever met who is a former snooker professional. Welcome Jane.
Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person?
I can be acerbic and don’t suffer fools gladly, which makes social media a bit of a struggle for me sometimes. (I get on best online with people who have actually met me, so perhaps my waggly eyebrows help offset the acid.)
I have five kids and a grandson, and am nomadic by nature, currently in Devon, though have lived all round the country. Last year I hit my half century.
In my twenties, I was a full-time snooker player, ranked 24th in the world in the women’s game. I got banned for life in 1995 for bringing the game into disrepute, so became a writer instead. I used to be the size of a small fishing vessel, but after spending last year on a low carb diet, my proportions are more whale-like now. The diet continues …
It’s always a pleasure to welcome authors to my website and particularly so today as I say hi to Andrea Darby. I’ve known Andrea for yonks as a fellow newspaper journalist and now she’s also a fellow author as she has just brought out her first book The Husband Who Refused to Die. Welcome Andrea.
I’m very single-minded and completely besotted with music, writing and dogs. I started playing the piano aged six, then took up the flugelhorn – basically a fat trumpet with a more mellow sound – which I played in brass bands for many years and gave me the opportunity to perform in concerts and competitions all over the UK and abroad. The social life that goes with ensemble music making is fantastic.
When I’m not writing, I teach piano from my home, near Cheltenham, always accompanied by Frank the poodle.
… Oh, and I’m obsessed with pens and Post-it notes, to the point where I’m contemplating a January stationery detox.
So you imply one thing, the reader infers another. It can happen in small subtle ways, or great big clunking ones – the character you intend as a noble hero can seem more of a villain for example. Why is it hard for the writer to spot? Because it’s still you doing the rewrites, and you still have your initial perception colouring your view.
Here’s an example, not from art but from life, of this effect in motion.
First thing I want to say is I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan, have been for years, nobody enjoys a bit of Blonde and Blonde or Blood on the Tracks more than me. But I don’t believe he should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature – it’s not the right award for him.
Fans supporting his win are talking about what a wonderful poet he is and what fantastic lyrics he writes, and I couldn’t agree more. He writes and performs wonderful work.
And he has received countless relevant awards for that, endless Grammys, an Oscar, you name it, probably had to build a new wing on his mansion to keep them in. Plus he’s had his mouth stuffed with gold, and he’s been feted for all kinds of stuff he’s not much good at, he’s been lauded as an actor when he can’t act, as a painter when he can’t paint worth a damn.
Why give him this as well?
So I have a stock response which is to say that I don’t know why I write except that I feel compelled to. I don’t necessarily enjoy writing so much as I find I need to do it, because it’s part of me.
So that deflects the question but doesn’t really answer it.
You’re creating a whole new world, so it’s never going to be straight-forward.
I think the tyranny of detail is something which weighs heavy. Is this or that bit right? But it’s best to press on.
I was in a branch of Waterstones the other day, which is the big bookshop chain in the UK, and I noticed that, where the face-out copy of J.K Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy should have been something else had appeared.
Another book was sitting there, taking the glory, and, to make things worse, it was a pretty shoddy looking book. It was skinny, barely more than a pamphlet, and it had a dull maroon cover with a white line drawing on the front. It reminded me of school text books from the 1970s. How could this cuckoo in the nest have got there? Well, I’m not Raymond Chandler, I wasn’t even in the detective fiction aisle, but I’m guessing we need look no further than the author of the ‘misplaced’ book.
Neither Caroline nor her work will mean a great deal to people outside the UK I don’t suppose but here for a while, in the nineties and noughties, she was something of a force of nature and brought a type of writing to television that we don’t really see any more and that, right at the moment, we really need.
I was delighted this week to give a talk at the Evesham Festival of Words in the UK about writing to win short story competitions. I won a big one in the UK some years ago called the Bridport Prize and more recently I have also become a judge for story competitions.
So I was asked for my suggestions about what a writer can do to improve their chances of winning these big writing contests.
I offered five simple tips I think can put people on the right track towards doing well in these competitions. During the conversation we all had after my talk a fellow writer added an important bonus tip – which is to seek out the competition anthologies which publish the winning stories in these competitions and read them, so getting an important insight into what it takes to win.
Here are my original five tips: