Showing posts with label N M Browne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label N M Browne. Show all posts

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Your Point of View: N M Browne

She began the book with her characteristic rush of early enthusiasm, which as usual barely lasted beyond the second chapter. She wrote at speed, spurred on by the inspiration of the Olympics and the testosterone-fuelled enthusiasm for ‘personal bests.’ Within the month she had surpassed her own ‘pb’ and completed a piece of writing so turgid and dull that she despaired of ever editing it to her satisfaction.
 She attempts a change in tense. She sits at her laptop and tries to inject life into the story of her poor protagonist. It is hard, harder than it should be. She thinks about all the other books that she has written and changes her heroine’s name. When that doesn’t work she writes a short story. The short story is quite good, at least compared with the novel, which is  still terrible. She walks to the shop and buys more coffee. She cleans the house. She discovers that the laundry basket is not actually bottomless. The book is duller than ever and as the summer fades to autumn she finds her spirits sinking lower than the barometer.
I make a decision and change my point of view. Not that radically, I still hate my book though at least  my prose perks up. I am still drinking a lot of coffee, but I am less morose and I have stopped whinging about my inability to work. I begin to see what might be done, how the blasted thing could be beaten - violently so that it is light as a meringue. Books are trickier than meringues and the lighter they are the more effort they take to get off the ground.  
 I was perhaps too optimistic too early. It was the tense. I was tense - obviously - not working always makes me tense, but the present tense was a little too tricksy for a romantic, frothy tale. It was too earnest and literary. I needed to find an easy natural voice, and I thought this first person past tense would work. Of course I underestimated the effort involved: simple is always hard. I was very tempted to cut my losses but you know how it is. 
You start something and you want to finish it. You pride yourself on being a professional, on doing what you set out to do. You consider turning your fluffy romance into a crime novel as it better fits your mood. 
You knew that the plot was never that strong and your protagonist never that likeable. You brewed more coffee and drank the whole six cup cafetiere’s worth. You wished you smoked, perhaps that would have worked: nothing else had. You considered locking yourself in a small room without internet access. Maybe past tense was better after all  and just maybe, you speculated, your protagonist was more believable in third person?
  It all depends on your point of view...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The August Challenge: N M Browne

 Although I have been writing for years, I am not very good at working consistently, or indeed at all. I can always find something else I'd rather do.
The internet is a disaster - I used to spend hours on RASFC - a usenet forum frequented by some very interesting writers which taught me a great deal: I could justify that because I did indeed learn a great deal and lost hours to vaguely literary chat or 'cat vacuuming'. Then I moved on for a while to 'Absolute write water cooler', which was less enlightening, but still distracting. I missed my old friends from RASFC who had migrated to 'livejournal' or 'facebook' so obviously I spent time there too. It is after all important to keep up with friends, not just because friendship is worth while in itself but because its helpful for writing - conversations are inspirational, revelatory, informative  and so  I am  also available for dog walks, coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and early evening drinks ( especially early evening drinks.)  I have even been known to resort to housework or shopping (always for tedious things that I can justify as being entirely necessary) to avoid the  business of constructing sentences.
 I only ever produce books by tricking myself into work. I have used the alarm clock thingy on my computer to force myself to write for fifty minutes without distraction. When that doesn't work I bribe myself with coffee, chocolate, wine and I set myself public challenges like producing a certain number of words a day.
 I didn't have a very productive 2011 and 2012 has been worse so I set myself the task of writing the first draft of a chick lit novel in August.Why? I can hear you ask and it is a good question. It is mainly because I've never written one before and I don't usually do very much in August. Anyway, I am a couple of days behind schedule as I've taken a few days off, but I am at 40,000 words in and hoping to knock the rest on the head before September. It isn't very good ( what a surprise) but actually I don't care - you can't edit air and sometimes you just have to get those words on the page. I'll let you know how it works out.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Mangling the Language: N M Browne

Today I’ve been thinking about sentences and how to mangle them.
In my experience the majority of sentence mangling occurs when writers aren’t sure about what they are doing. I teach from time to time and come across quite a lot of mangling one way or another. Sometimes a student might write a fight scene but hasn’t visualised it properly so tries to describe several actions in the one sentence or a writer might want to explain some element of a character’s personality but aren’t entirely sure of what they want to say. Sometimes mangling occurs when someone wants to appear more erudite than their knowledge actually justifies, or when they have been told that they shouldn’t repeat the same word too often and raid the thesaurus for synonyms... always risky. Mangled sentences tend to accompany mangled thinking or maybe, for those of us who only think when we’re writing, mangled writing produces mangled thinking.
I’ve been speculating about the issue because I had to write an English essay for the first time in well over thirty years and my God, were my sentences mangled. Everything I’ve learned through writing fiction was forgotten in an instant and I was once more an intense, swotty teenager, constructing sentences of labyrinthine complexity, laying sub-clause on sub-clause, periphrasis on qualification, until the whole inelegant edifice collapsed under its own weight.
In the intervening years I have written business reports, reviews, young children’s stories and novels. I’ve written simple stories with limited vocabulary. I love short punchy sentences. I can’t explain why when faced with the prospect of writing an essay I panicked. I would like to say I reverted to type- only back in the day I did everything long hand and I think I actually thought in those dense, complex sentences because it was always easier to add a rider or another clause rather than start again, rethink and redraft. It is so easy to edit these days - so why did I forget how? It was as if like some character in one of my own novels I was actually magically transported back to 1979 and my days of wild hair, ink pens and overweening intellectual pretension. I swear I could hear the juke box strains of Santana’s ‘Samba pa ti’ weave their way through the sixth form common room of my memory. No wonder the essay was rubbish.
Still one should always learn from one’s mistakes and I suppose I learned several things from this humiliating endeavour: transferable skills aren’t always transferred, the past exerts a powerful pull on the present, I need to be more tolerant of students prolixity and I need to practise essay writing...

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Cyclical Failures: N M Browne

I’ve just flicked back to read my earlier posts on this blog and have discovered just how cyclical my life is. It may not be governed by the moon, by seasons or by school terms, at least not entirely, but my emotions are as predictable as all three.
The New Year always brings determination to work harder, smarter and more lucratively with grand schemes for impossible daily word counts, Carthusian discipline and focused commercialism. This lasts until my first encounter with a new idea...

The first encounter with a new idea. Well this is obviously the One I’ve been waiting for, the one to put my name on the map, on shortlists and best seller lists and in the review section of all significant magazines, newspapers and blogs. It doesn’t matter that it looks on the surface like an uncommercial idea because no one knows what sells and publishers are always chasing the last big thing: they don’t really know anything. We writers are the innovators and we have to follow our guts.This lasts until chapter seven...

Chapter seven is like wading through a blocked sewer, the rats are gnawing at my confidence and I am beginning to believe my whole story stinks. The concept is rubbish, the writing uninvolving, the end too far away to contemplate. I start looking for jobs in the paper and online. I’m sure I’d be a really good communication director of a FTSE one hundred company, brain surgery can’t be that hard can it? Or, failing that, Waitrose pays double on Sundays. This gloom lasts pretty well until the end of the book...

The end of the book. Well, it needs a bit of fixing but it isn’t all bad. I mean it probably won’t win any prizes, but my kids like it and I almost enjoyed reading it through apart from the typos obviously and the slightly dodgy bit in the middle I’ll fix in edit. Actually I’m not bad at this. No, not half bad.This confidence lasts until publication....

At publication. Um has it actually been published? Ah yes. Well at least one reviewer likes it. I knew it was never going to be a huge commercial success didn’t I? It’s a pity because it is much better than X which just topped the best seller charts and Y which won everything this year or is it? Maybe I should have rewritten it? Maybe I should have picked a better subject/written a different book/ turned it into a script/ a picture book/ a cookery compendium? I’m in the wrong job. Why do I bother? This gloom lasts until the New Year when...

The really sad part is that I can’t help it. I don’t think I can get off this particular not-always- so-merry-go- round. I’m like some creature in a fairy tale doomed to endlessly repeat the same mistakes, but then aren’t we all?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Creative Thinking : N M Browne

I am fascinated by the creative process, particularly when I'm not engaged in it. The more I think about it and try to pin it down the weirder it seems.
Do you picture a scene before you write it and then describe what you see or do you bring the scene into being by the act of writing, the words themselves populating your brain with images? Do you hear the voices and try to cpature them or do characters only speak as the words tumble onto the page?
I think for me the words precede thought, or at least that's what it feels like. I never know what is going to happen until it emerges somehow or other from my incompetent careless fingers. But words definitely make pictures in my head so that in editing I can take a closer look, re examine a shadowy figure and discover that he has black hair, that his shirt is crimson, that he holds a damascene blade in his left hand and that his nails are painted the colour of ripe plums.
I always thought that this process of writing was the same for all writers, but of course it isn't. I am intrigued to discover that many people know what they are going to write before they start, that some people don't picture what they write at all and others are haunted by the disemboided voices of characters they have never met, though they may just be the mad ones.
It isn't much discussed, this actual business of envisaging or creating perhaps because it is so hard to describe; the moments of making things up are fleeting, the ideas, intangible. At times writing comes close to lucid dreaming at others it is more like constructing a flat pack wardrobe from IKEA - one of the ones with the key piece missing - and doing it blindfold.
And another thing... is this imagining universal or is it only writers or painters who work this way? When people ask where we get our ideas from is it because they don't have any and are baffled by the process? Doesn't everyone sit and extrude images, places and people, pulling them like rabbits from a hat of our imagining or gathering them like candy floss on a stick. Are we writers particularly strange or is it just that we, spending long hours staring into space, are more inclined to notice? Any ideas?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Every Day in Every Way I'm Getting Better and Better: N M Browne

As anyone who knows me will testify, I love a good argument - the four minute or the ten minute variety. I don’t go in for rancour or nastiness but a fair and frank exchange of views sharpens my brain, not to mention my tongue, and adds a certain spice to life.
Lately I’ve been arguing online - surely the biggest and most pointless time sink yet discovered - about progress. No, not evolution or anything contentious like that, but the view, firmly held by many people, that the more we write the better we get.
It is partly the fault of those of us who teach creative writing; we suggest that students will improve with practise, with redrafting and rethinking, with time. This is true enough of very inexperienced writers, but I’m not sure it is true of the rest of us. Will our next book be better than our last? Well, it kind of depends what you mean by better doesn’t it?
I always want to do something different. Each book is a new departure, an experiment and by virtue of the fact that I have not written this particular book before - I am always a newbie, making new mistakes, screwing up in ways I hadn’t thought of before.
I was surprised that this view was not universally acknowledged as a self evident truth- as even well known writers don’t always produce their greatest work at the end of their lives, and how many brilliant first novels are never followed up?
Yet the response to this view was horror: ‘ I could not go on if I felt like that’,‘ Unlike you, I will keep striving to improve my craft,’ or words to that effect.
It struck me that as a society we want to believe in progress, economic, social and personal and are inclined to ignore evidence that does not fit this thesis: the idea of continuous self improvement has moved on from being a nineteenth century religious aspiration to a twenty-first century fact of secular faith.
I don’t think it is true and it doesn’t bother me in the least. I am about to publish my tenth novel and have written a couple of others that may never see the light of day, I am completely comfortable with the idea that each one is not ‘better’ than the last. I don’t feel I have yet produced my ‘ best’ ( though I might have) that isn’t really for me to judge. I just keep bashing away, taking each idea as it comes, trying to shape a good book, meet the challenges I’ve set myself and get it out there. What about you? Are you getting better?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 1: N M Browne

Having just read Catherine’s excellent post and this latest rather depressing issue of ‘The Author’ I feel the need to find, Worzel Gummidge like, my Pollyanna head and list some reasons to be cheerful.
1. As an author you can lie in bed with your eyes shut claiming (sometimes legitimately) that you are not dozing but plotting...
2. Cafe Coffee and croissants post JK Rowling are a morally justifiable, if not a legally acceptable, expense.
3. You can still work in your dressing gown/birthday suit/wellies without anyone lecturing you on ‘inappropriate workplace attire’ or indeed horrific taste/cellulite
4. You can still feign shock at parties when nobody has heard of you: ‘Oh but I always thought you were very well read...’ or ‘well I suppose my books are rather demanding... ‘
You can also cause acute panic in certain types of parent with a raised eyebrow and a bemused: ‘ Oh I’m surprised that (insert child’s name here) isn’t reading my stuff yet... How old did you say she was?
5. Nobody expects you to be on time or entirely sober as you are obviously an ‘artist’ of one kind or another. Similarly eccentric dress, erratic housekeeping and disgusting personal habits can be indulged with equanimity and people may be persuaded it’s all down to ‘creativity’.
6. You can avoid almost anything by claiming to be working and as no one knows what the hell you do all day, no one will contradict you (See 1 above)
7. If your year has been anything like mine you can expect a tax rebate. (See 1 above)
8. If you have an accountant and you’ve had a year like mine he/she may be fighting the impulse to send you charitable donations and/or food parcels...
9. You can take out your irritation by casting all your enemies as villains and put all the clever things you never manage to say into the mouths of your heroes.
10. You can go somewhere else, be someone else, do something amazing just by sitting down and writing. And it’s all free! This is a very good thing. (See 7 and 8 above)

Monday, 15 August 2011

An interior Life? N M Browne

I read a book last night. Nothing new there you might think, but this one set me thinking about the creative process.
It’s an old book published in 1990 and written by a US online friend under the name ‘Katherine Blake.’ In it the heroine day dreams a conventional, if well thought out fantasy story which develops against the background of her daily ‘chores’. Moreover the characters she invents help her to get a grip on her mundane life: advising her on redecorating her house, sewing and baking, encouraging her to develop her musical and artistic tastes and to learn about the medieval period so that her husband gets a promotion and she gets self esteem, friends - and a more successful husband.
It was very much a product of its time and place - the domestic milieu of small town America in the eighties seemed if anything more exotic than the fantasy, but it is an interesting idea. My first thought was that I’m glad that my husband has never had to rely on the quality of my housekeeping to get a promotion, but the second was that creativity just doesn’t work like that for me. It is a very romantic idea that while washing up or listening to a boring conversation you can envisage scenes from a novel, that characters can give you sartorial advice ( just as well as mine seem to wear altogether too much chain mail which is a tad impractical for everyday) or even that the courage of your heroes can give you confidence in awkward situations. Surely that’s just wishful thinking?
And yet... honesty obliges me to admit that I do imagine my characters talking. When a book is going well they play out scenes when I’m walking the dog or lying idle in the bath. They don’t ever talk to me directly (no voices in my head no, no, none of that here!) and they are strangely silent when I’m listening to a boring conversation or needing help with cooking, but I have broken off in the middle of doing something sensible to scribble a solution to a knotty problem on a spare scrap of paper. In occasional moments of stress or when teenagers have been particularly difficult, I have even imagined myself to be a six foot female warrior who takes no prisoners and has a very big sword.
So, as often happens, my third thought is a radical departure from my first two. Maybe my friend had a point? Real life and work do get more confused than they probably should and creativity is not something that you can keep in a box, but an invasive, transformative and often inconvenient manifestation of a little bit of madness in even the most well ordered of lives...

Monday, 11 July 2011

Getting to the Point: N M Browne

So where do you get your ideas from?
I know we all dread the question and, even though I know I’m going to be asked it, I still haven’t come up with a sensible answer. Philip Pullman (note name dropping ) told me and two hundred other people that he bought them at ‘Ideas R Us.’ I want to say that elves leave them on my desk in return for chocolate crumbs, but the truth is I often lack for any ideas at all.
I rarely think to myself: ‘I want to write a story about...’ That’s not how it works for me. I can’t wait for inspiration. I haven’t got the patience to wait for a bus I always set off walking so why would I wait for inspiration? Instead I start writing and hope the idea bus will catch me up.
Often an idea will emerge within a paragraph, sometimes within a first line. Most of the time characters, places, situations, rebound like snooker balls on a billiard table and I discover that they have all arranged themselves in such a way that I can pocket the lot. Sometimes sadly, that doesn’t happen and it takes a lot of work and a lot of miscuing before I get to that point, indeed to any point that might count as a desirable destination.
My new book (out today as it happens) is one of those latter books where the ideas didn’t all come together either by happenstance or by gargantuan subconscious effort; they resolutely refused to arrange themselves within potting distance of a plot resolution. ‘Wolf Blood’ was the result of more of my blood, sweat, tears and foot stamping than is usual. It was not high concept.
Give me credit. I tried to make it sound like it was (Oh - did I try!) ‘Roman werewolf meets warrior seeress with bloody consequences?’, ‘Roman werewolf meets Celtic firestarter?’ Nah. It really isn’t that kind of book. It is hard for me to sum up because it isn’t one big idea, delivered neatly packaged by elves on a sugar high, but lots of little ones, colliding tangentially until somehow the game got resolved. ( I hesitate to say won.)
I do not give good elevator pitch. I don’t work like that. I can’t get to the point, the point of the book until after I’ve written it and sometimes not even then.
What I’ve learned is that you don’t need a big idea to write a novel, but you do need the confidence to carry on regardless, in the hope that one will arrive. Someday, eventually, it probably will.
That small (and possibly inconsequential) message of hope to those lost in plot pits is the point of this blog.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Flaming stories: N M Browne

I love this
and it seems to me that it exposes the essential fearfulness of some of us writers. Don’t get me wrong I am right up there with the biggest cowards. It is my fear that fuels my fiction: fear of the dark and the weird things in it, fear of sharp objects, fire and flood, fear that I will fail to keep my children safe, fear of all the world might throw at them.

I am a primitive creature squatting by my fireside in the darkest of nights telling stories to hold back the shadows. I don’t believe in sympathetic magic: I know that battles won in fiction where courage, faith and honour are rewarded, do not mean that battles will be won in life. I know that keeping my heroes safe (ish) will not protect my loved ones. I know that I am not heroic because my characters are heroic. I know all this and yet somehow I still believe that in some small way the stories do hold back the dark.

Perhaps by acting out my fears on paper I am a little less neurotic in life, perhaps even a little bit braver? For how do we learn about courage except from stories about the courageous?
How do we come to believe that right can prevail except through those tales in which it does?

I absorbed a lot of my moral values from my own childhood reading, from Reepicheep and Biggles as much as from Jo Marsh and Anne of Green Gables. (This probably accounts for some of the more bizarre inconsistencies in my personality.)
In their various ways all the fictional characters that live in my head have shown me ways to be and not to be, given me choices. In my fiction even my most confused and uncertain characters choose, in the end, to hold back the shadows.

It would be nice to think that fearful as I am, readers see not the horrors but the victories in my fiction, that they see the courage of my characters not the cowardice of the writer. Maybe you have to fear the dark to evoke it with any conviction, dread it in order to overcome it with any sense of triumph?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sailing Through and Ploughing On: N M Browne

There are several things I like about lecturing : I earn a little extra cash ( and I mean a little), I get away from my desk, my dog and my laundry basket and it makes me think.
Last week a student confessed to being a farmer not a sailor. I must have looked particularly blank as she immediately explained that she was a farmer because she ploughs the furrow of her own life, her own feelings, her own familiar milieu. I was startled at first. It’s not an analogy I’d heard before and it seemed counter intuitive that someone of so little experience should focus on it so exclusively. Then I remembered: at nineteen I think that’s all I did. Back then I only wrote truly abysmal poetry inspired by my ‘A’ level texts: TS Eliot, John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins - an inevitably unhappy menage a trois. As you can imagine it was all about me, but with obscure references, sixteenth century vocabulary and sprung rhythm.
Is this a stage? Is it a function of that unhelpful adage ‘write what you know’ or do we as young writers believe that the function of ‘the artist’ is to transmute leaden adolescent angst into literary gold? Are we more inclined to narcissism then or are some of us always more inward looking?
I don’t know. I can only speak for myself,(still a narcissist then, ed.) I ditched the poetry around the same time I cut my Kate Bush hair, discovered that southerners had funny accents and ( horrifyingly) that I wasn’t that interesting. Maybe inward looking people have better furnished interior lives - more Corbusier then DFS - or, to switch back to the original metaphor, fascinating farms. My farm is notably poorly managed and has never yielded anything more inspiring than the common spud and a spud is still a spud even if you dress it up as ‘Gratin Dauphinois’. It is just as well that when I took up writing again many years later, it was as a sailor.
These days, in my writing if not in my blogging, I travel as far from myself as I can get, journeying back in time, or sideways to alternate universes, switching gender, age and species. I don’t explore the depths, but the ocean is wide and unpredictable and you never know what you will find beyond the curve of the world and that has to be better than spuds.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Mirages: N M Browne

It happened again. Not a moment too soon. After a year of on off rather unsatisfactory writing, I had five days of joyous, out of my control/forget-to-eat writing possession.

The last book, which I’ve just delivered, finally found its shape and rhythm only at the very last minute, on a deadline and after much spitting and cursing. I had a good few of those desert days where you can’t see the oasis or when you think you’ve found it only to have it dissolve - another bloody mirage. I briefly became a menopausal ancient mariner stoppething anyone who’d listen about the futility of it all. I drank a lot of coffee, ate a lot of chocolate and was unfailingly, unfeasibly grumpy for far too long.
My restoration began innocently enough when my son and his girlfriend reminded me of a story idea I’d had a year or so ago. I’d regaled them with it over the course of lunch: they were students, I was paying - they were obviously a captive audience. At first I thought they were mistaken. I had no idea what they were talking about. It must have been some other novelist, or some other book, but as they continued I felt the first flicker of something, recognition, enthusiasm and the blam it hit me! Passion swiftly followed by possession. I couldn’t type fast enough: sentences tumbled over sentences, characters walked into my head talking to each other, kissing each other, killing each other, enacting, no, living a plot. How could I have forgotten such a brilliant premise? Why hadn’t I written it? Within the hour the whole thing had unfolded in my head like some exotic, wondrous plant. I was consumed.

Today I am knackered and bereft. Where did it go? Obviously it was just another writing mirage - the idea of a perfect novel. Still, it was wonderful while it lasted. It reminded me that sometimes writing is just great fun. I am determined to push through the plodding phase of uncertainty and self doubt because if your son remembers the plot of a story for more that a year - there’s something there - right? And the passion, that possession might return? Please. Pretty please.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

In Memory: N M Browne

Today would have been my father’s birthday - a once forgettable date, lost between Christmas and New Year which led to rather a meagre birthday present haul. I never forget it now. He died twenty years ago, a few months before his 58th birthday and I still miss him desperately.
He was a painter who gave up painting for twenty years - from my early childhood until his early (and too brief) retirement. He gave up because it was impossible to combine painting with earning enough to support us. He was good at what he did and exhibited widely before I was born. Would he have ‘ made it’ if he’d carried on? Maybe. Did he regret the sacrifice ? I don't think so.
Anyway, the struggle to find time to teach, paint, and be a family man was too much. I still have a portrait of me he began when I was about four. I outgrew the dress I was wearing before he was able to finish it, which says it all. Consequently, I grew up with the knowledge that doing what you love is a privilege not everyone can afford.
My father always fostered my ambitions, even my mad decision to give up teaching, study for an MBA and become a business woman. He thought I was bonkers, but supported me none the less. He died before I discovered what he had always known - that I wasn’t really that kind of person.
I began writing only after his death, when suddenly life seemed short, precarious and altogether too precious to waste on work I hated. I had always wanted to write ‘one day,’ but dying days are certain and ‘one days’ aren’t.
He never saw me published and never met three of my four children.
Whenever things go badly with my writing, which if I’m honest is often, I wonder what his advice would be. Would he tell me to stick with what I love, to seize the day, or to face up to economic realities as he had to do?
I have no answer to this particular conundrum: I only wish I could ask him for his.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Living narrative: N M Browne

Do you live in narrative? Are you someone who always has a little voice in her head interpreting, describing, novelising your daily life?
If you have such a voice are you a) mad? b) possessed? or c) a novelist.
I now think the most usual answer is c) but as a child I did worry that it was a) or b). No one ever talked about it and, fearing that this endless descriptive flow was at worst mad and at best pretentiously self indulgent, I never raised the subject. I identified with Joe Marsh and Ann of Green Gables, and even most disturbingly with the ghastly girls of the Chalet School and as they apparently thought in well structured sentences so did I.
Later, when I was older, I became concerned that this measured ( third person) narrator’s voice mediated my experience, distanced me from living in the moment and prevented me from responding instinctively to people and situations. I am not sure that was true, but nonetheless ‘I resolved to give it up’ ( I am pretty sure of that because back then I definitely was the kind of girl who ‘resolved’. )
Fast forward thirty years and in a series of tentative, cautious conversations with other novelists I discover that this literary voice endlessly forming sentences as an hour by hour commentary on life is not so unusual. Lots of perfectly sane people do it. Who knew?
While I can’t say I regret its loss overmuch, I do think it was incredibly useful. I grew up writing and even in the years when my pen never touched the paper, I thought in prose. I was probably more fluent, more literary as a young woman than as an old working writer. When as a student I needed the words they were always there, tumbling out of me, faster than I could write: clause and sub clause unrolling like a carpet under my feet, taking my argument wherever I wanted it to go.
Of course it isn’t like that now. Words elude me all the time and I don’t know if that’s a symptom of incipient mental decay or if it's because I no longer live in narrative: I just live. What about you?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Write Fight: N M Browne

I am feeling rather impotent. I can’t save my kids from massive uni debt, or help libraries buy or stock books, I can’t do anything to prevent PLR slipping away without a body to administer it. I know there are far worse evils in the world but education, literacy and an acknowledgment of the importance of culture are three bastions of civilisation and they are all under threat.
This is not a call to arms. There are things that make me angrier and I’m confident that I will have plenty of opportunity to get angrier as cuts get more radical. This is more a call to write. I mean there’s not much point in going on strike is there? Who would notice?
No. I am fighting back in a singularly ineffectual but morally satisfying way. So you think by destroying libraries, reducing discretionary income and bringing in a double dip recession thereby destroying the retail book trade you can break me, hey?
I am made of stronger stuff. I will finish this book, dammit, and it will be great and even if no one reads it but my kids ( because I’ve bribed them) and the librarian's daughter (who liked my last one,) I shall not be beaten. We practitioners who deliver culture at the frontline ( sadly a quote from the culture minister) are not so easily discouraged, we will continue to ply our trade with little hope of earning a living wage, we shall defend the value of the written word ( however it is delivered by book, download, or psychic transfer) and we will prevail!
So there. See. Not so impotent after all, huh!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Write ups and write downs: N M Browne

I wouldn’t say being a writer is an emotional roller coaster because 1) it’s a cliche and 2) neither flying pigs, wild horses nor any other improbable kind of animal incentive would get me to ride on one. I don’t like what roller coasters do to my guts and my inner ear, but I do like being a writer in spite of its impact on my emotional health. ( A polite way of saying it makes me bonkers.)

If it weren’t for the reasons given above there would be some mileage in the metaphor. Writing is full of dips and troughs, sudden highs when you believe you are a genius and gravity defying plummets when you realise that not only are you not a genius but you can’t even write an interesting sentence. You hurtle along what may or may not be a safe, pre planned path with terrifying switch backs, hairpin bends and expectation defying changes in speed and then comes the sudden terrifying recognition that you don’t actually know whether this wild journey will end in a happy resolution or in some dire tragedy. Being a writer you can even imagine the headlines, the article and the death toll.

Personally I am OK with the doubt and the uncertainty. I love the moments of delight and elation when you feel just out of control enough to enjoy the journey, but I expect them to be followed by vertigo and vomiting. I am able to cope with the sense that it has all gone horribly wrong and the feeble structure in which you have invested such high expectations cannot support your ambition, is badly engineered, has wet rot, metal fatigue and is about to teeter and fall. I can cope with all that. It is the hope that gets me. Every time...

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Five ways to do it: N M Browne

There are many ways of writing a novel . A brief poll established that of writers I know the top five locations for novel writing are
1. in an office or shed, (everybody’s doing it ) The great thing being that simply going there convinces everyone that you are working even though you might just be internet surfing, napping or rearranging the garden tools.
At a kitchen or even a dining table, for those without a room of ones own. Manuscripts tend to get coffee stained and muddled up with the gas bill which can add an interesting post modern frisson to the offering blurring the distinction between reality and fiction etc
In bed I have tried this and always fall asleep, but apparently it works for some people.Writing and dreaming are sometimes indistinguishable anyway
In a coffee shop - particular good for fantasy writers on low incomes ( isn’t that all of us?) Tends to lend itself to excessive caffeine consumption and if its a local coffee shop and you know lots of people a very low word count per hour.
In some fantastic exotic location. Whenever I’ve tried this I’ve decide that the location is far too nice to waste time working.

There are also five preferred tools:
1 typewriter only good if you can type as the damned things don’t have a delete, copy, paste or insert button. Only for the very clever who don’t make mistakes and have very strong finger muscles ( ie not modern day degenerates.)
pen and paper - I get cramp just thinking about it but great for those with legible handwriting who are unlikely to leave the only draft on the train.
pencil and paper - for those with legible handwriting but less certainty.
stone tables and chisel for those with the same qualities as 2 but more time.
word processor - for those who can’t type, haven’t got legible handwriting, who are quite likely to leave drafts on the train and make lots of mistakes.

And five top tips for writing a novel without all the work.
1 Plagiarism, picking up some obscure book that miraculously isn’t on the internet and copying it This is a criminal act that can’t be condoned and only included here for completeness. Besides any book obscure enough to be a candidate for plagiarism probably isn’t that great anyway.
2. Calling on the muse. People’s techniques for this vary. Some involve alcohol induced trance like states, others involve reclining on sofas eating grapes and I have heard that a vigorous walk across wild country can startle a muse into manifesting. I’ve never had any luck with this myself long walks tend to produce nothing more useful than detailed to do lists and blisters.
3. Calling on the pixies. Some leave chocolate out in the hope that good new words will appear on the pc by magic. I’m afraid I eat all the chocolate so never have any to experiment with. At best I would describe this as unproven. Anecdotal evidence suggests they are better at making shoes in any case.
Automatic writing. This is a bit like getting in touch with your muse only harder as it involves contacting the dead. Given the low rates of literacy in the world over time and the even smaller number of english speaking literate dead, the chances of finding one who is both a decent writer and interested in hanging round writers who probably have among the least interesting lives for dead voyeurs, seems remote.
Employing a ghost writer - less like 4 than you would think. Works brilliantly for ballet dancers, footballers and topless models.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Mythanthropy: N M Browne

I like myths: I depend on them. They are the source of much of what I write and the foundation of my writing. My personal myth is as necessary to me as the air that I breathe or the coffee that launches my writing day. My personal myth is that writing is easy, fun and unimportant. ‘You just sort of sit down and type and eventually something will happen and then a story sort of arrives and you just write it. I quite like it, but you know it’s not essential to me. I haven’t always written and I was perfectly happy back then and you know I’m only part time so I’m not really a writer...’ I’m not saying I don’t believe this because, as we all know, myth expresses truth, but the deeper truth is that I know that if I allowed myself to admit to caring about my work, to taking it seriously, I would be unable to do it it all.

I don’t know but I suspect that we all use little personal myths to help us write, odd takes on the world that allow us to keep doing something which I have to see as essentially ridiculous. Some people use the myth of the struggling artist to inspire them. They buy into the necessity of pain in order to produce something worthy and sometimes see the value of a thing as being directly proportionate to the amount of suffering involved. Some wannabe writers seem to believe that to be ‘real’ writers they need to develop a borderline personality disorder, alcohol/drug dependency or a problem with personal hygiene. Others see writing as a battle in which their self worth is tied to their personal courage and grit, their ability to absorb all the difficulties and disappointments this business throws at them in order to come back bloody but unbowed and still fighting.

Writing is difficult because it requires skill, persistence and luck. It is hard to earn a living, it is hard to gain respect: sometimes it is just bloody hard. It is not glamorous, it is often isolating and isolated. Is it any wonder we need our personal myths to protect our egos, to make our daily struggles more heroic? Or is that it just me?

Sunday, 30 May 2010

iMuck up: N M Browne

I have been without my iMac for a week and I am afraid I missed my spot here. I have been quite bereft.
This is weird because I have never much cared what I wrote on in the past. I wrote all my essays as a student longhand and didn’t really start using a computer for writing until the late eighties. For a while I wrote on a palm pilot and have used a variety of machines since, but it seems those promiscuous days are gone. I have lost my adaptability.
I find that I can’t actually write longhand any more. I can’t make my hands do those wiggly bits. I have got to that wonderful stage of life when my handwriting, always illegible to other people, is now completely impenetrable to me. Notes in the margins of manuscripts could mean anything at all. I have spent hours trying to decipher words which turn out to have been scribbles trying to bump start my pen.
I have to type and I am a dreadful typist. I did go on a course once - but I only lasted the first few lessons. I know where the main keys are but I didn’t get to the lesson on capitals, tabs, numbers or punctuation. Occasionally I will offer to type something for my kids only to find myself wilting under their criticism. I always type ‘hte’, ‘form’ and ‘stroy’, hell, I even mistype my own name as ‘Nikcy’ and my old computer always welcomed me as ‘Nicole’ due to an unfortunate mistake early on in our relationship that I was too incompetent to correct: besides it made me feel exotic.
Anyway, (or as I prefer to type it ‘anywya’) I like my iMac because it has a big clear screen that shows me my mistakes. I don’t have to squint at it or crane my neck. It looks beautiful and my heart lifts a little when I see it. Without all the various boxes and wires of my old Dell, I have much more room on my desk for excessive clutter and it emerges like an elegant sculpture from the detritus of my disordered workspace, a paragon of modernity. Without it I have found myself unaccountably at a loss.
I confess that I could have written my blog if I’d really tried. I have a small notebook on which I could have worked, but it has a tiny screen and a rather unfortunate tendency to stick like an old fashioned typewriter. It is fine as long as I don’t type words with ‘m’ or ’l’ in them or sentences with that all important ‘.’ Even I, a stranger to sophisticated punctuation, recognise that as a problem. It might have been an interesting challenge, but I couldn’t face blogging, or more properly, bgging without those letters.
So I’m sorry I didn’t blog on my day. I’m sorry that I appear to have become dependent on a particular type of machine, that I am in thrall to a US based multinational that is taking over the world. I will fight it I promise, but not until I’ve finished my next book. (If it sells I might have to buy an iPad.)