Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Here be Dragons

Told you here be dragons.
There’s an apocryphal tale about a comedian who was asked:
‘Where do your ideas come from?’
He answered:
‘From my head.’

The reason that came out of my head is down to visiting Nottingham University’s Chinese New Year celebrations at the weekend to celebrate the year of the rabbit.  It’s always good to get out and see new things, and it’s filled with music, dance and imagery you don’t usually get to see every day, so it was good to take the opportunity when it came- especially when I saw the exhibition of chinese calligraphy on fans and banners – one of them featured a poem by He Zhizang:

I left home young and returned old,
accent unchanged, but my hair now thin and gray.
Little kids do not know me at all —
with a big smile they ask,“Where are you from, stranger?,”

It’s beautifully poignant, and out of the blue reminded me of the tiniest idea I’d had for a story – so very small, I’d practically fogotten it – now it’s back, front and centre, and the notion that I can draw on the experiences of someone who wrote 1600 years ago is really exciting.  All that from getting out of the house on a blustery Sunday night.

The comedian is right - ideas do come from your head, but only if you put stuff in there to begin with. 
Time for me to go find some more stuff – how about you?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Want to know the truth? Ask a stranger.

You know you’re more comfortable with your writing when you can show it to members of your family without staring intently at them; instead you master the art of staring at them through a newspaper or a book, or a solid wall so they hopefully don’t notice.
I got some encouraging feedback from a family member last week after giving them part of the current draft of Hidden Daughter – I’m confident they meant it, but I suspect they meant it with more gusto because I was sat on the other side of the room, pretending to check emails while listening to every page turn (another anti-stare tactic which doesn’t work).
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Feedback is a completely subjective issue – what one person loves, another hates (or even worse, thinks is ‘okay’) – so the challenge is to take as much of the subjectivity out of it as possible.  And part of that subjectivity is me.  Thanks to Writing East Midlands, that’s what happened the next day.

I’ve just received my critical feedback report for Hidden Daughter, which Writing East Midlands helped me sort with their Critical Reading Service – after approving my application, they forwarded my synopsis and the first fifty pages of my manuscript to a professional editor.  And because the person reviewing my work doesn’t know me from adam, I got an honest opinion of whether the manuscript and synopsis work, and what could be holding them back from being their very, very best.  Exactly what I needed. 
I’d be lying if I wasn’t nervous about sending out Hidden Daughter, but if I want to tell Penny’s story to an audience beyond the walls of my front room, I had to do it.  And be ready to use the feedback to make Hidden Daughter a stronger story.  And that’s what I’ve been up to today.
The feedback’s been good, impartial and constructive; it’s been the shot in the arm I needed to keep me writing forwards through the grey winter days (am I the only person getting tired of wearing jumpers?) – and most importantly, it’s meant I can make a start on line editing Hidden Daughter, ready to meet a bigger world than the sandpit of my laptop.
As for Coalface?  Still making good progress - I’ll talk about the excel spreadsheets I’ve had to build for it another time…