A writer colleague, Debra Watkins, has persuaded me to climb aboard and participate in a writers’ blog tour. She’s written a blog about her writing life. In it she included references to other writers she knows, including me, with links to our websites, the theory being that new readers, intrigued, would visit them.
The scheme of the tour is that I (and the other mentioned) people) write about myself/ourselves and include brief details of others. Then, next time, those people in their turn write and mention still more. And so it goes on, hopefully ad infinitum, growing like Topsy, spreading outwards like an organism doing cell division, in a snowball or ripple effect, introducing writers, established or emerging, to one another.
So now it’s my turn to occupy the hot seat. I’ve had to be disgracefully self-regarding (but then I’m allowed to be, at my age) and write about myself, although it goes completely against my natural instinct of modesty, you understand. And I’ve recommended other people, more about whom below.
To follow the format of the scheme, I’ve answered four writer-oriented questions. Here, for your delectation, are my answers.
What am I currently working on?
Well, the WIP (twenty chapters done, four-and-a-bit plus a very emotional epilogue to go): The One of Us, is a story about twin baby boys conceived in less than propitious circumstances – drunken lust – and abandoned as foundlings by a hopelessly inadequate teenage mum. They’re taken into care and adopted into separate, very different families: one of them English and the other Welsh. To make the story more interesting they’re identical, which gives opportunities for exploring nature/nurture theory.
To what extent will the genetically clonal boys develop into distinctly different individuals according to their disparate upbringings, family environments and other influences? Or how intrinsically similar are they, beneath an outward shell of personality and outlook difference, in spite of everything?
(There are several other book ideas written on the backs of envelopes, but to continue the human reproduction theme into analogy, they remain tiny unfertilised ova at the moment.)
How does my work differ from others in my genre?
To be honest, I don’t think I have a genre as such. Blithely ignoring the received wisdom about successful writing, I certainly don’t set out to write in any particular one and stick to it. I flit around like a gadfly, regardless of genre, from one theme that interests me, or about which I have strong views, to the next. If you want to pin me down, I suppose I’d say I write in the catch-all ‘general fiction’ category, which is probably no genre at all. I wouldn’t dare to be pompous and say I write ‘literary fiction.’ Modesty forbids.
I can only say that my writing differs from others in that it’s the product of my unique collection of brain cells and my consciousness, with its personal take on things based on the experience of a lifetime. I’m not really going out of my way to be different, just setting down with biro or forefingers jabbing the keyboard whatever comes into my head. ‘Stream of Consciousness,’ I suppose you’d call it. Says he, sounding pompous after all.
Why do I write what I do?
I’ll answer that in two parts.
To Why do I write? I’d answer: because it’s a zillion times better that slumping slack-jawed (and possibly a bit dribbly), eyes only semi-focused, gazing at daytime TV. Or most of evening TV too, for that matter. Really, I don’t know why I pay the BBC license fee, other than out of innate honesty. I certainly don’t get good value from it. Seriously though, I’m trying to stave off the relentless march of senility for as long as possible, on the theory that the brain is a muscle and needs daily exercise. And because I’ve always needed to express myself creatively one way or another.
And to . . . what I do? I’d answer: because (sounding pompous again) I like to write about the Human Condition. I’m not interested in escapism, whether fantasy, thriller or romance. Not exclusively any of those things, anyway. I like the authentically emotional, empathetic stuff. The thought-provoking sort of book that lingers in memory for a few days afterwards, rather than end abruptly at 100% on the e-reader, promptly forgotten. I like to read that kind of book, so I try to write like it too.
How does my writing process work?
It goes something like this: while being walked by my dog, which always involves trailing along behind her as, in her boisterous spaniel way, she races busily ahead, an idea for a book comes. I carry it carefully home, the grit in the proverbial oyster, and before I forget, write it down. (For details of how, see answer to first question.) In the fullness of time, if I still think it’s a reasonably good one and having been mentally coating the grit on further walks, I progress to typing a basic outline on the laptop. This is a harder process than dreaming up the initial idea, I find.
Having established a provisional pearly nucleus, I think about it a lot more on yet further walks, and then get down to the nitty-gritty: working it up into a plan of chapters with the narrative sketched for each. This is subject to much changing of mind.
When I have a reasonably satisfactory outline I begin the really fun bit: the writing proper. This is not done in some musty venerable bookshelved study (or indeed in a modern one with a desk from IKEA) but on my sofa with laptop on, well, lap and sheaves of notes and suchlike spread on the other seat cushion beside me. Sometimes, when the weather is atypically really sunny, I write in my summerhouse/writing den, imagining myself to be Dylan Thomas – see homepage. Any research required happens courtesy of the internet (grateful thanks to Tim Berners-Lee) as I go along, switching effortlessly between Google Chrome and Word, rather than doing it all beforehand.
About nine months later I have it all committed to hard drive and back-up. Then I go right through the virgin creation and try to discipline myself to mercilessly self-edit. This is not an easy task, as I tend to regard most of what I’ve written as a wondrous thing. Note: for this reason, editing is best done by someone else: preferably a really good, professional, hard-hearted, bribe-resistant editor. The same goes for proofreading. Most writers, and certainly me, are clinically incapable of recognising their own typos.
Well that’s how I write, anyway. It cheerfully breaks every rule in the book, probably (so to speak) but it’s my way.
Here are my three recommended writers; all excellent in their different ways. So as not to risk sexism or show any sort of favour, they’re arranged alphabetically by surname.
Chantelle Atkins is a mother of four from Dorset, who has been writing for as long as she can remember. As a child she wrote for the same reasons that she always had her head in a book; to escape, to dream, to make believe. She enjoyed creating characters inside her head, people she could believe in and have fun with, and she says strong characters and believable dialogue are still the driving force behind her writing now. She writes very edgy, gritty yet humane novels.
Anthony Nobbs is the author of two published novels: The Belvedere Field, which compassionately tackles a tricky subject; and An Amber Scent, which wittily and empathetically enters the mind of a fifteen-year-old girl. He also writes short stories. He was born and brought up in the Norfolk Broads area. After study engineering at Leeds University he moved to London. He currently lives in Berkshire and works as a project manager for a property company.
Andy Ritchie describes himself as a writer, poet, photographer, hillwalker, blogger, philosopher, visionary and all round good egg. He says he’s described by others (recently) as cuddly, a dandy and a popinjay, intimidating (especially when wearing slippers), screw loose, too nice, dependable, behaviourally competent (whatever that means) and having a good eye. (Editor’s note: Andy also writes with a sharp wit. As Eric Morcambe might have said, ‘this boy is a born comic.’)