Showing posts with label Nick Garlick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nick Garlick. Show all posts

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Three jokes and an apology

    I've been writing a lot recently, and am close to finishing a new story. But I seem to have overdone it because all this morning - and as I write this - the joints in my right hand are aching. Since I really do want to finish my story by Christmas, I'm going to beg your indulgence, save my hand, and keep this month's blog VERY short.

    In its place, three laughs I've collected from the internet over the past few months. I hope to resume normal service by the time the next blog rolls round.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Breaking the jam

I wonder if this rings a bell with others.

I can outline all I want, but sooner or later I always reach a spot in a WIP when I realise that I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’ll have overlooked a plot point or a character trait that brings my story to a shuddering halt while I try to work out what to do next.


Since I don’t have the kind of imagination that works to order, it can often be some time before I get going again. But something strange has happened lately – for me, at least; others may do this all the time. While I was stuck in one story and not relishing the prospect of worrying about a solution, an idea for another story popped into my head. I scribbled a few ideas down, liked them and, deciding that if I couldn’t write Story A, I might as well write Story B, got started on that.

Things went swimmingly for about a week. Then Story B dried up; my outline had been very sketchy. In the meantime though, I’d had an idea for Story A, so I decided that I couldn’t write B, I might as well...

I’ve been doing this for a while now. Progress on both is slow, but there is progress. As I said earlier, others may do this all the time. My upbringing, though, has drilled the idea of finishing one job before starting another so thoroughly into my being that this... method of unlocking ideas has never taken root.

It’ll be interesting to see where it takes me.


Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Architecturally Good Writing - Nick Garlick

A few years ago I was watching the 1966 film The Chase. At one point in the story, an elderly woman played by Jocelyn Brando goes berserk with anger and starts raging and howling around the town square. To call it overacting would be an understatement. Chewing the scenery came more to mind. (Readers of a certain age might get a good idea if I mention Tod Slaughter. Times 2.) Yet the person sitting next to me sighed with admiration and said, ‘Wow! That’s good acting!’


The reason I’m writing about a film in a book blog is this. Over the past few months, I’ve bought three novels – two Middle Grade, one adult – whose back and inside covers were thick with gushingly admiring quotes from a host of respectable critics and writers. I managed to make it through one of the MG books, but the other two I put aside after fifty pages because I simply couldn’t get past the style.





One writer described mud that ‘sucked like fingers’. Another wrote of men whose ‘shoes leaked toes’. I’ve lived long enough to know my fingers and shoes pretty well and I’ve never yet seen the fingers suck or the shoes leak body parts. Then there’s this sentence: ‘The roar of applause hit them like a solid wave. It was architectural.’ I’m still racking my brains trying to understand how a sound can be architectural.

How does all this tie into The Chase? It’s because Jocelyn Brando let you see her acting. She wasn’t being a woman consumed with rage; she was letting you see that she was acting a woman consumed with rage. She was making you aware of what she was doing, just as the writers of the three books were letting you know that they were writing. They were demonstrating how clever and inventive they could be with words, even if that cleverness meant coming up with wildly inappropriate metaphors and similes.

Some people like this. To them, it’s real writing, because it draws attention to itself. It shouts out, ‘Look, I’m writing!’ I find it an annoying distraction, one in which the author’s personality becomes more important than the story, an attitude I have to say I find a little insulting to the reader.

But  - and here’s the rub – all three of the books I’ve taken the examples from were huge bestsellers. So what do I know? Perhaps it really is good writing.


Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Calming down... with words - Nick Garlick

In my last blog, I described why I like writing children’s stories. This time around, I’d like to describe one of the reasons I like writing. 

I was clicking through my favourite websites over my cup of coffee yesterday morning when I came a Facebook post from a relative who’s a dedicated conspiracy theorist. (9/11 was a US government plot. Vaccines are killers. The Illuminati are running our lives. And on. And on.) That day’s post offered ‘scientific’ proof that wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID -19 is actually a danger to our health.

Without wanting to wade into the whole mask argument, let me just say such stuff drives me round the bend. Bloviating experts working on ‘faith’ alone infuriate me. This one infuriated me so much I couldn’t sit still. I had to get up, walk around and talk to the cat for five minutes to calm myself down.

The last thing I wanted to do was write. Sit and work on a story about a little girl banding together with friends to save a local beauty spot? I was so angry I couldn’t get myself into the calm, innocent frame of mind I needed to describe her adventures.

Yet not writing only made me feel worse. So I made a compromise with myself: all I had to do was write one page. And then if I really wasn’t in the mood, I could stop.

I opened up Word and started a new chapter. One page, I told myself. 350 words. Perhaps because my anger at the mask post was still boiling, I wrote them almost without knowing. By the time I’d finished them though, an idea had popped into my head for how to continue. I hadn’t known it the week before when I stopped in mid-chapter. Now I did.

I finished the chapter and began the next one, because that new idea in the first had prompted a new idea for the second. I kept writing. Almost before I knew it, I’d written 1,500 words. I’d also calmed down. A lot.

That’s the reason for writing I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. It takes me away from all the nonsense and negativity of the world. It makes me feel better. More positive. It makes me – when it’s going well* – glad to be alive. I hope it always will.

*I could no doubt write another blog post about what happens when it doesn’t go well. But if I do it’ll be another time.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Two Reasons - Nick Garlick

Someone recently asked me why I write children’s stories. There was an implication in the question that it somehow wasn’t quite ‘proper’ writing, which in turn made me think of that decade-old observation by Martin Amis.So while I’m sure this isn’t the first such blog on the subject, here’s my answer anyway. It’s illustrated by my favourite children’s books.

I like stories. They’re the single most important reason for my picking up a book. I want to discover something that keeps me turning the pages to find out what happens next. And if there’s one thing that writing for children demands, it’s telling a story that holds their attention. If you can’t, they’re off, looking for something more interesting.

Writing for children makes me work as hard as I can on coming up with the best possible story I can. And I find that deeply satisfying. That’s the first reason. The other is this. I grew up in a nice, comfy, white middle-class environment. I went to boarding school for ten years. My parents weren’t monsters. I wasn’t abused. I had a LOT of advantages.

The thing is though, that my growing-up world didn’t seem to have much interest in what I liked doing.* Which in turn led to a lot of confusion on my part. What was wrong with me? Well, nothing, as it turned out. I just wasn’t particularly good boarding-school material, with its emphasis on belonging, playing the game, following the well-trodden path.

But it took me a long time to work that one out and it’s the second reason I like writing what I do. I like the outsider, the person who doesn't quite fit in, who does something a little different. They're the ones I enjoy writing about. Which is why, if one child who feels as odd and awkward as I used to feel reads one of my stories and thinks, ‘I’m not so weird after all,’ then I’ll be happy. 

And if they just enjoyed the story, then that’ll be fine too.

* (No claims for uniqueness here; I’d be willing to bet most people reading this felt the same as children.)

Friday, 29 May 2020

More Than A Good Read - Nick Garlick

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I rarely sit and talk with friends about the books I’ve read. Not in depth. We pass tips back and forth: ‘You’ll like this’ or ‘Don’t go near that one in a lead-lined tank’. But actually sitting down together and spending 90 minute discussing the merits or defects of a particular book? Hardly ever.

And then I joined a book club.

We meet at this table once a month, in De Overburen, a cafe opposite the railway station in the Dutch town of Amersfoort. We always start off by talking about the book we’ve chosen, but it’s not long before the conversation veers off in all kinds of unexpected directions. That’s when the meetings get really interesting. Little Women prompted long discussions about how we expect stories to end. The Good Earth took us off into definitions of worldly success. We talked a lot about marriage after reading The Accidental Tourist. The Children Act got us going on the whole business of being alive.

(The one book we barely talked about at all was War and Peace. For such a massive tome, it inspired very little conversation. None of us had enjoyed it – and yes, we did all read it, all of it – and the overriding impression was of a chore accomplished. We just had a nice chat for an hour and a half.)

So the books provoke discussion. They get us thinking. And with nationalities ranging from South African to English, Indonesian to Dutch - and lately Russian – there’s a wealth of different experience to share. That’s one thing I like about the club.

The other is that it’s helped me follow a rule Neil Gaiman once offered writers: Read books you wouldn’t normally read. I think it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. (Second only to Sinclair Lewis’ observation that the process begins by actually sitting down.) Seeing how writers outside my ‘comfort zone’ tackle a story has been enormously illuminating.

Ian McEwan has shown me how to compress narrative. Louisa May Alcott has warned me off adverbs. Tolstoy demonstrates – to me at least – that telling what happened isn’t half as effective as showing. And with apologies to Julian Barnes fans, I think there’s a limit to how oblique you can make an ending. (I still can’t work out what happened in The Only Story.)

And one last point: they’re almost as much fun on Zoom as they are in real life.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Strange Inspiration

Just under two months ago, I went to see a therapist for an introductory conversation. I’d been troubled by some thoughts I could never quite get under control and I was hoping that talking to someone with an objective outlook/insight would help me put things in perspective.

It was a pleasant conversation. I liked the therapist and thought I’d made a good choice in selecting her. But there was a problem. I couldn’t afford to see her. My health insurance – I live in the Netherlands – would only cover 40% of her hourly rate, up to a maximum of €400 in any one year. And while I’m not destitute, I didn’t and don’t have the money to make up the shortfall. I could try a state-sponsored therapist she said, and she knew one or two to recommend, but she also had to point out that there was a waiting list of at least six months. 

            I thanked her for her time, said I was sorry we couldn’t go further, and went home. That’s when the inspiration struck. 

            You see, for several years now, I’ve had an idea for a ghost story. But only an idea. It’s never gone any further than that because every time I’ve tried to develop it, my imagination has dried up completely.     

             Yet walking back home that day, asking myself what I was going to do to solve my problem, it occurred to me that if I couldn’t talk to somebody about troublesome emotions, then I could at least express them another way. I could get them out of me by giving them to a fictional creation. I could use them to drive her story. 

            If I say that this fictional creation is a 12-year-old girl and that the book is a middle grade adventure describing her meeting with a ghost, some people may think that I really do need a therapist. (Or perhaps not.) All I can say is that since that initial conversation, when I began researching the setting, thinking up character names and constructing a plot, inspiration hasn’t deserted me. Progress is slow – I’m a slow writer - but it is progress. And my overall outlook has perked up considerably.

            Strange inspiration?

            Or just inspiration?