Showing posts with label Joanne Harris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joanne Harris. Show all posts

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

CREATIVE SELF-HELP THREE WAYS: Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Currey; Ten Things About Writing by Joanne Harris and The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Reviews by Penny Dolan.

One day, I will set aside my addiction to books about writing and creativity but for now, I'm dabbling in:and among this trio.

Daily Rituals: Women at Work - Pan Macmillan AU


After a friend mentioned reading a few pages of "Daily Rituals" each morning, when I came across what seemed the title on Audible, I downloaded it. Unfortunately, the longer I Iistened, the less fond I felt if Currey's American accent, and the more annoyed with example after example of another male writer, artist, philosopher or so on lounging in their bath or secluded in their library or off on solitary walks while servants and wives brought coffee and meals and kept children quiet and out of the way. 

I was still quiet cross when I spotted Currey's more recent title displayed in my local independent bookshop: Daily Rituals: Women at Work.. This was the book my friend had mentioned.

 Currey begins with a long, extremely apologetic chapter about the lack of  women in his first book, He has also created new classifications for his wide-ranging examples, using titles like The Vortex; Pure Neglect; A Subtle and Well Ordered Plan, Deadly Determination. Some names I knew - again, often chosen from a US perspective - but others I did not. For example, in the last chapter, From Rage To Despair and Back Again, along with Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, Doris Lessing, Natalia Ginsberg he offers three fairly names: the artist Kathe Kollwitz, the playright Lorraine Hansberry and the poet Gwendolyn Brooks.

Currey's three hundred or so women are spread across time, place and race. He offers glimpses of creative practice and habits, from painters, sculptors, writers, photographers, fashion designers through to musicians and scientists and more. Many seem just as focused on getting their work done as the men in the earlier book, and, so far, are not necessarily kinder to their servants or lovers.

At the moment, as I'm unable to go anywhere, Daily Rituals: Women at Work does give glimpses of other working lives, some more interesting than others. It is very much a printed book to dip into, a title to feel nosey and curious about and to have on a bedside shelf for a moment's reading when insomnia starts nagging. 

The double straplines are How Great Women Make Time and Find Inspiration and Get to Work. I am not sure that I'd follow any of the life examples I've read so far, but the women within these pages do make an interesting company.

Buy Ten Things About Writing 9781912836598 by Joanne ...


I have this title on my kindle, but the book - now published - looks boldly attractive, practical and accessible. "Build Your Story One Word at a Time" is the strap line.

Six years ago, in response to questions about writing, Harris posted occasional hashtagged threads on Twitter: Ten Tweets about this or that particular aspect of writing, noted down in the hope she might "help, encourage or motivate" people eager to improve their writing skills

TEN THINGS . . . is that advice, collected together in book form as requested by her many tweetlings, where the prose, though expanded, retains its succinct, easy "Ten Things" style. Harris moves swiftly through a range of topics: writing habits and headspace; the essentials of creating a story; the deeper issues of structure and pacing as well as advice on the whole editing, agenting and publishing scenario, together with a valuable final section for the times when things don't go right.

This is what I'd call an encouraging book. Harris writes in a friendly and positive tone, but there is a sound teacherly structure and purpose to her suggestions. Though there was little that was new or surprising,TEN THINGS . . .  felt the kind of book to open when one is in need of a bit of brisk chat with a writing chum and there isn't a real-world one to hand. 

 "Every act of creation brings hope; every little thing you build lifts you a little higher." 

The Creative Habit | Book by Twyla Tharp | Official ...

 THE CREATIVE HABIT: Learn to Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp.

"An exuberant, philosophically ambitious self-help book for the creatively challenged."

I cannot dance or play musical instruments or pot, or paint beautifully but I have always been fascinated by the creative life of artists. In this title, the dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp offers a rigorous analysis of what the making of art needs and demands.

I heard the book as audio first too, but this time all was perfectly matched. Tharp's brisk determined American voice left one in no doubt as to the material being covered, the contemporary examples she referred to, nor her own work-ethic and intentions. Nor, as Ilstened, was I left in much doubt as to the kind of task master she would be to anyone involved in her productions. I'm sure I stood up straighter as I listened to Tharp's voice. 

THE CREATIVE HABIT is an attractive and spacious book that makes stylish use of layout, typography and white and grey pages. (Just riffling through the pages, one feels a little more artistic!)  

The chapters have intriguing titles like "I Walk into A White Room", "Rituals of Preparation";"Harness Your Memory"; "Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with the Box" or "Ruts and Grooves."

Within these, Tharp offers accounts of her own and other artist's practice - musicians, photographers, painters and so on - but she interweaves these examples with questions, inviting the reader to try out some thoughtful exercises and examine their own practice and behaviour.  An early task is the writing of one's own creative autobiography, answering such questions as What was the first creative moment you had? Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it? How do you begin your day? What are your habits? What patterns do you repeat?"  and so on. Throughout her book,Twyla Tharp suggests that the knowledge and the use of sound, creative habits can support an artist during good and difficult times and into the future. 

As an awkward non-dancer, I'd worried that Tharp's thoughts would be irrelevant to my writing self. However, turning the pages and hearing someone speaking so strongly from within a different creative tradition and practice was both refreshing and inspiring. 

Good luck with your own year ahead.

Penny Dolan


Sunday, 5 February 2017

Dystopia - Our New Reality? by Savita Kalhan

The past decade has seen a resurgence in the popularity of dystopian novels amongst teens and young adults. They include the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Maze Runner series by James Dashner, The Last Wild series by Piers Torday, Uglies by Scott Westerfield, and my personal favourite - Julie Bertagna's brilliant Exodus trilogy. The teens in my library reading group devour dystopian novels.

 Last summer I wrote a short story called The Death of Princess. It was about a fifteen year old boy called Manny, struggling to survive in the bombed-out shell of his family home with his mother and younger sister, Sumi. The story was to be the focus for the Paris Erasmus Plus creative writing workshops I was running for English Language school kids who had come from eight countries across Europe.

The teachers and kids had access to the story before they arrived in Paris for the workshops. They had all read and translated the story, and analysed it before attending the workshops. The kids had also drawn or painted illustrations of the scenes in the story that had impacted them most. And they pretty much universally thought it was a dystopian story. 

I had prepared slides and showed them images from The Hunger Games and other dystopian films, which re-affirmed their view that my story was definitely dystopian. But then I showed them photos of what real wars do to a city. 

I showed them photos of Aleppo and Homs. The images could have come from a dystopian film. The boundary between an imagined fictional dystopian future and present day reality became blurred.
              It was an eye-opener for the kids.

              The Death of Princess is not really a dystopian story, but a story sadly of our times. Manny and his mother and little sister are forced to flee from the Firemakers, who have been sent by the new regime to all the towns and villages to enforce a new kind of rule, a rule where books are burned, people go missing; where life itself is threatened. Their flight in search of safety takes them to the sea where they have to make another choice: whether to return to what they have left behind, or carry on to find freedom. They choose freedom, they choose to travel towards and across the sea.
              Manny wakes up alone on a beach.
              Where is the rest of his family?

              Working in groups which consisted of a mix of French, Portuguese, Latvian, Polish, Turkish, Lithuanian, Spanish and Italian kids with mixed ability English, the kids were great at working together to answer questions on the themes of the story and discussing them.
              One of the writing exercises the kids had to do was to rewrite the ending of the story in English.
              The new endings didn't have Manny waking up on the beach alone.
              Almost unanimously, the kids wanted to save the rest of his family.
              They all wanted an unambiguous happy ending. 

Dystopian themes might make good fiction. But who really wants to live in a dystopian reality? No one. Especially not the kids I was teaching. 

The next generation wants to keep dystopia on the book shelves, where it belongs, and this gives me hope. Like Joanne Harris, it keeps me wanting to write. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Publishing as a business - is it time to revolt?

At the beginning of this year, there was a flurry of letters, blogs and publicity about authors' fees at festivals. Philip Pullman's decision to pull out of being a Patron of Oxford Literary Festival was prompted by, and itself prompted, a widespread debate about the ways in which literary festivals reward the authors that are the primary reason for their existence, with well-known authors such as Joanne Harris and Francesca Simon joining in to condemn the fees policy and even pulling out of appearances as a result.

It is striking that, while the administrators, the catering staff, the ticket collectors, the marquee companies, the stewards, the plumbers, the booksellers and the technical support, who all contribute to making the festival run, are paid wages, the authors (and, at children's festivals, the illustrators), those who are at the very heart of what the festival is about, are often paid with a free lunch or a few bottles of wine - and even when they are actually paid money, it's generally a nominal sum. Unless they happen to also be a Big Draw or a Celebrity Author. It has been argued (for example, by Claire Armistead, here) that those authors who aren't a Big Draw or a Celebrity should simply be grateful for the exposure - they aren't who the audience have come to see. They gain publicity and profile from their association with the festival and that's their reward. But I think this misses the point. Audiences come to festivals not just for the Celebrity Author but to discover new writers, new voices, to hear something inspiring that they weren't expecting - to browse among a curated set of the latest talent. The new authors  are worth every bit as much to the life of a festival as the older, established ones - and I'd like to bet that the people that come back again and again do so because of the new writing they've been exposed to more than the familiar stuff that they always knew about.

But I don't want to rehash the arguments over festival fees. What seems to me more interesting is the question of who really benefits from festivals? And the answer is, by some considerable margin, not individual authors but the publishing industry. Which begs the question, why are publishers not paying for their authors/illustrators to attend festivals? Are we aiming our ire at the wrong target?

It's clear that many small and even large festivals wouldn't survive if they had to pay all their authors fair fees. But it could be argued that the industry they are really benefiting is getting a pretty cushy deal: free (or at the least very very cheap) promotion for hundreds of their books and authors, as well as a massive coming together of industry insiders in a congenial location where deals can be done and networks strengthened with booksellers, journalists, bloggers, authors - the kind of event that if it was an industry conference (which it almost is) would cost them thousands of pounds per delegate.

And the publishing industry is not short of a bob or two (profits of the biggest companies are in the millions, and margins are as high as 10%, compared with the general retail trade at 3-4% and bookshops at around 1% or lower (see here for figures).

So really, what the debate over author fees raised for me was not how mean the festivals are, but the wider question of how a whole industry can justify running a profit on the basis that every single contributor to the basic commodity it sells - the editors, the publicists, the computer support, the receptionists, the printers, the CEOs, the cleaners, the van drivers - is paid an appropriate wage, but the writers and illustrators are paid amounts that mean that, on average, they are working for less than the minimum wage.

When I go to schools, I am sometimes asked how much money I make as an author. I generally reply with another question - how much money do they think I get for each of my books that sells? Guesses generally range from about £5 per book to £1 or £2 per book. They are all utterly flabbergasted when I tell them that it's often less than 10 pence.

I can't think of another mass commodity industry that works like this, apart from the music industry. In all other areas, the core people involved in producing the commodity at the heart of any industry, whether it's a newspaper or a dishwasher,  are always waged. And music is slightly different, because its arguably performance that is at the heart of most music rather than recordings - and when a musician is performing, they are generally paid an appropriate wage.

I don't know what the answer is - but I do wonder if we need to get more angry about this. I wonder if we need to be agitating more forcefully. I wonder if the Society of Authors ought to be lobbying publishers and saying, look, you may think there is an inexhaustible supply of would-be writers who want to be published so much that they will accept any kind of deal, but unless you start offering proper returns for the business of writing, returns that however they are organised (royalties or retainers) deliver proper decent hourly rates of pay, we, your published authors, mid-list and celebrity alike, are going to start refusing to write for you.

So, Philip Pullman and Joanne Harris, and all the other well-known authors who have been putting pressure on festivals. How about it?

Cecilia Busby writes humorous fantasy adventures for ages 7-12 as C.J. Busby. Her latest book, The Amber Crown, was published last year by Templar.


"Great fun - made me chortle!" (Diana Wynne Jones on Frogspell)

"A rift-hoping romp with great wit, charm and pace" (Frances Hardinge on Deep Amber)

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Copyright. It's a piece of cake - John Dougherty

Who would have thought that copyright would be one of the issues of this election?

Not one of the major issues, obviously; not one of the really important issues like how best to eat a bacon sandwich, or whether Scottish MPs should be allowed to help make the laws or should just sit at the back doing raffia. But amid all the high-level politicking, someone noticed that the Green Party website expressed an apparent desire to reduce copyright to a period of 14 years.

Obviously, some people got cross. Some other people, however, couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. They started saying things like, It was an initiative to get copyright owned by artists & writers, not companies, and The idea is to support arts, and It is in all of our best interests to have a vast public domain, and No one needs decades of monopoly, and If you write a book and after 14 years you haven’t made enough money, maybe you should write another book.
Much of this demonstrates a real misunderstanding not just about the working life of the average writer, but also about the basic principle of copyright, which is this:
If I make something, it belongs to me.
This applies whether it’s a song, a story, a poem, or a cake. I suggested this to someone on Twitter, who replied, I give cakes away. And you know what? That’s fine. If you make a cake, and you want to give it away, you can. You can give it all to your friends, or you can put it on the wall outside your house with a note saying “Help yourself”, or you can throw it at the seagulls. That’s fine. It’s your cake.

Similarly, if you want to sell it, that’s up to you. You can set up a cake-stall and sell it slice by slice; you can put it on eBay; you can sell the whole thing to someone who forgot to bake a birthday cake, or who’s having guests round for tea and hasn’t been to the shops, or who has a cake-reselling business, or who just likes cake. Or you can ask the cake-shop down the road to sell it for you at an agreed commission. That’s fine. It’s your cake.

And if you want, you can leave it on the kitchen table till it goes stale and mouldy. You can hang it from a tree and throw apples at it. You can put it in the bath. You can bury it in the garden. You can do any of these things, because it’s your cake. Whatever you want to do with it, that’s fine.
What’s not fine is for someone else to decide that it shouldn’t be your cake, and help themselves without your permission. 
It doesn’t matter why they don’t think it should be yours. They can argue that you’ve got more than enough cake; they can argue that you wouldn’t have been able to make the cake if someone else hadn’t produced the flour & eggs & sugar; they can argue that cake should be for everybody. They can argue that the big corporations make too much money out of cake; or that wider distribution of cake benefits society; or that if you haven’t got enough cake then maybe you should make some more; or simply that they really really like cake. Some of these may be true, but none of them is relevant. Because it’s your cake.
Nobody’s been able to explain to me why a story or a song should be any different in this regard than a cake - or a business, to use another comparison. If someone builds a business up and then hands over the day-to-day running to an employee, would we say that after 14 years she should lose her rights either to profit from the company or to control its direction? I don’t think we would. If someone builds a house and then rents it out, would we say that after 14 years of not living in the house he should lose his rights of ownership? Again, I doubt it. When you strip away the sound and fury, most of the arguments for reducing copyright seem to boil down to one of two:
  1. I want free stuff
  2. The internet has made it easier for people to steal stuff
We wouldn’t accept either of these as a good reason for removing other property rights. I don’t see why intellectual property should be any different.

Cake images © Michael Dannenberg. Used with permission. Because, so to speak, it's his cake. 

Further reading:
The ever-wise Sarah McIntyre in defence of copyright
Jonathan Emmett on why, even as a solid supporter of copyright, he's voting Green. I think I may do the same. Thanks to Jonathan for sending me a link to this.
John Degen on myths about copyright. I found this one on Sarah's blog.
The wonderful Joanne Harris - again, thanks to Sarah for the link. This one contains a cool little test to help you work out if you support the copyright principle or not.
Tom Chance, a former Green party spokesperson on Intellectual Property, gives his view
The Society of Authors's statement in response to concern over the Green Party's position. The Society's quick guide to copyright may be found here.


John's latest book is the extremely silly Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Evilness of Pizza, illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP.