The downside of pneumonia is neglecting the blog and indeed, most other things. It was a dreadful illness I don’t want to even revisit in memory, so let that be enough of an explanation for the ridiculous amount of time since I last posted.
If I was forced to admit to any ‘upside’ to being ill, apart from entitlement to wear my PJs all day and not bother with anything much, it is that it gave me more time than usual to just ponder on the story of my next novel.
I have had elements of what I think is a potential book-length story floating around for a while. Potentially, I think it may be a good story of the sort I want to tell.
However, I am missing the ‘quest’ of the story. It isn’t an adventure type of story and doesn’t easily fit into the usual tropes of a quest. If I was pushed into a corner, I might say it follows the ‘odyssey’ type story in that there is a beginning and an end, adventures and challenges along the way and a satisfying conclusion. The protagonist is on a journey, though only in the sense that we all are to some extent. I cannot find the key element of the story and I am floundering trying to write my outline.
Thanks to Eileen Pan for the use of the image from Unsplash
As I pondered upon this, I wondered if it meant perhaps that the story should be let go of and I should move on to one of the hundreds of story ideas I have in my notebook instead, but it won’t disappear. It is nagging me to be told.
I guess I hoped the Muse might turn up and provide the answer. Indeed, she provided some. Thanks to the enforced time away from actual writing, I have well-formed characters in my head and some scenes only need transferring from my head to the page. Thinking time certainly helped flesh some of my ideas out, but I am still missing my ‘that’s it!’ key.
However, as Stephen King said in On Writing, we have to ‘go to work’—I understood this to mean show up and hunt the story down. So, rather than waiting for some ephemeral wordy alchemy, and using a pen and notebook rather than a keyboard (weird, yikes), I started to free write and I think I realised that my issue has not been about ‘finding the element’ so much as getting back into productive, creative thinking. The point is, I haven’t been ‘going to work’—I’ve been on a sickie and now I am not. I need to show up, go back to work and hunt that missing element down.
At the end of the day, everything comes back to ‘why do I write?’
I got my first royalty payment from my publisher this week. Royalties covered the five-month period from June to October. It is always very lovely receiving unexpected money but it didn’t seem … very much.
Thanks to Sarah Agnew via Unsplash for use of the image.
The total number of my books distributed over five months is 129 copies. To be honest, it is a bit demoralising. I suppose I thought because it is a great story, well told it would gain traction and be noticed. I have neither the skills or, frankly, the physical energy or interest in becoming a marketing whiz. I thought the book could go off into the ether and do its thing. I guess I imagined the quality of the story and its telling would equate to spread which was probably naïve.
One colleague writer told me I shouldn’t discuss book numbers – that for reputational reasons I should big up success and maintain a mystique about book distribution. A university colleague told me those were the kinds of numbers some academic book writers aspire to. Many academic texts are written in the hope of being listed as essential course books but if they don’t get that holy grail, sales numbers may never rise above the double digits.
I don’t feel any great concern about what others might or won’t make of the numbers but it did make me reflect, a little dolefully perhaps, on the huge effort I had put into the book and whether it was worth it. Writer ‘success’ is so beguiling and its siren call can easily sway attention away from what matters. I have never written for success. Yes, I love it when my writing is well received but I write for the fun of it, for the moment I find just the right word, for the joy of a script that is as true and complete as I can make it. I write because it is part of who I am, part of my well-being, and an important part of every breath I take. A five-star review certainly warms the heart and I hope I have many more of them. Sales are very lovely indeed and I am grateful to everyone who chooses to spend their hard-earned cash on one of my books but numbers on a spreadsheet are not the important parts of my story.
I have started my next book and am also doing NaNoWriMo again this year – just for the fun of the challenge because writing is my story.
Thanks to John Jennings via Unsplash for use of the image
*I have subsequently had feedback that the manuscript needed further proof editing and it does – so that is currently being attended to and the book will be revised for its second edition.
‘Success’ revisited: I was out with friends and a reader recognised me from having seen me at a book reading event. He came over to tell me how much he loved my book. It was honestly a lovely, lovely thing to have happened to me and I was thrilled. Just for a moment, I felt like a ‘proper author’ and starry. That little moment was worth a zillion book sales 🙂
Thanks to Towfiqu Barbhuly via Unsplash for the use of the image
My novel Everyday Wendy is now published. It is available online and some bookshops and libraries are stocking it. It is already a prize-winning book in that it made the shortlist for the Pen to Print prize 2022. I find out in a week whether it is the prize winner of the shortlist.
This week I received a stock of complimentary copies from my publisher. It was ridiculously exciting to open the boxes. A friend who is also a published author offered the opinion that I should not give copies away. She said people who care about me or my work will buy the book (which is important for sales data and book chart ranking etc) whilst those who don’t buy it probably won’t be much bothered by receiving a free copy. It was too late. I had already posted at least half of my comp copies out to family and friends far and wide. The rest are being kept for my book launch event. Her advice certainly made me think though and it will definitely inform my future approach because I trust her and it makes sense. I see the wisdom, generosity, and experience in her words.
However, for this book, I was happy to send it out into the universe with love. I wrote the book because it was a story I wanted to tell. Almost all authors imagine the film star who will eventually fill the lead role, and I am no different, (Emma Thompson as Wendy, Peter Mullan as Andy for the record), in all honesty though I never really thought much past writing it.
The book is a work of love. Love of writing, love of my family and love of my sister Andrea who in the most challenging of times for her, nudged me away from the dark of crime writing and tedium of academic writing into lightness and positivity. Love of my wife Cath who went above and beyond in believing in the story and supported me tirelessly to get it down on paper. Lots of love came my way when I was trying to turn this story into a publishable book. It is, at its root a story about love and family and community. It feels entirely right to me to keep the love flowing. So, I have sent it out in the hope that it is enjoyed and that it gathers some momentum and it either will or it won’t. Either way, I am proud of it. It is a good story. I am proud of myself for writing it. If that is where this story halts it’s OK but I believe it will get where it needs to be.
I have no idea what I’m doing post-publishing. Book launch? How do I do one of those? Media and press releases? Social media drench? I will work it out of course because I have to give my book the best shot at becoming visible in a hugely crowded space but rather ridiculously (when I think about it now), I hadn’t thought this far or ‘what next’. I guess this is the post publishing admin required. I am on a learning curve.
In the meantime, according to Amazon sales data combined with my giveaways, at least 100 people this very week are reading my book. I hope they feel the love.
Everyday Wendy is available in both paperback and ebook. There is a direct link to my amazon page on the separate tab up top or click here
Full English, by Bent Architect and Natalie Davies is a remarkable production. The story is based upon the personal history of Natalie Davies whose Nan, in the late fifties fell in love with one of the first migrants from Pakistan. Their family experienced racism and their mixed race* children struggled with their identity as they tried to work out where they belonged.
The story is both beautiful and challenging: Beautiful in that it draws upon and glories in the strength of women who banded together, and challenging in the language and attitudes of the times in which it was set. An experience of a holiday in Blackpool which began as joyous turned into a terrifying experience and was so raw, it must have been drawn from a lived experience.
The play spotlights a moment in history from a unique perspective. It reminds the viewer, intensely, of the hideousness of racism, and invites the suggestion, perhaps, that we have grown and moved forward. But before we are too self-congratulatory about how liberal we have become the production also reminds us of how rarely we see such narratives on our stages.
This blog post is an unashamed fan piece – I loved this production. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and spent time in the Bradford/Manningham areas in which it was set. There were queer pubs in the Manningham area – marginalised people of different tribes find peculiar safety in their marginalisation, if not their differences. I remember the riots (the queer pub I went to burned down). I remember the tensions and the hate of the NF bigots and thugs. I felt a connection to the history but the stories in this piece took me on such a journey of perspective. Despite my Anti-Nazi League badges and attendance at demos, my memories had little rooted understanding of what black and brown communities were experiencing. I felt awestruck when I left the theatre. The play was funny, sad, uplifting, thought-provoking and so beautifully crafted. The writing of this piece is extraordinary – the flow of movement between generations and memory is done so well and the stage direction of how it is delivered is a lesson in which less is so much more.
The play ‘Full English’ is honestly fabulous, amazing and wonderful. If you get a chance to see it, you should. Listing of dates is at this link. I really hope this is picked up for film or TV – it should be.
Shout out to the cast who oozed talent. Faye Weerasinghe (Natalie); Lucy Hird (Cath/Nan); Kamal Kaan (Sohail/various).
*I am aware the term ‘mixed race’ is contested. It is used both in the play and on the information sheet provided by the production team and so the terminology used in and by the production team is used in this blog.
Thanks to @BentArchitectCo for images. Apologies I do not have info to credit the photographer.
I’ve previously blogged about my experience of writing and performing a monologue as part of a Roots Touring production of ‘Queer Spaces’. The production was staged at The Stephen Joseph Theatre and also the York Theatre Royal.
The Assistant Producer and Literary Coordinator of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the talented and lovely Fleur Hebditch (@Fleurhebditch) saw the production. She subsequently Directed the performance of my script again as part of the SJT’s ‘Second Stage’ which is described as a showcase for new writing talent.
My monologue was performed (beautifully by Jacky Naylor) alongside excerpts of scripts by Annie Fox (@anniekathfox) – ‘The Sleepwalkers’; Elizabeth Godber (@elle_godber) – ‘An Unexpected Birth’; Cara Christie (@CaraMChristie) – ‘Influenced’; Jingan Young (@jinganyoung) – ‘Hong Kong Tragedy’; Steven Bloomer (@stevenbloomer)– ‘The Burn’ and Sadar Mohammed’s ‘Ducks’.
After the performances, Annie, Elizabeth, Steven and I were invited to participate in a Q & A session with the audience. We had loads of astute questions from an enthusiastic audience and it was a warm, fun experience. It was also affirming to gain the support and encouragement for my writing.
And that is the point. The excerpts of plays showcased were without exception seriously good. Each touched on some thought-provoking themes including loss, dementia, and abuses of power. I personally hoped to be able to see each and every script fully staged and performed and from the audience reaction it was obvious others hoped for the same. But as any writer will confirm, it is ridiculously difficult to get one’s work noticed and scriptwriting has a difficulty niche all of its own.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre – in addition to being a pioneering theatre, film, and music venue with a reputation for delivering a marvellously diverse and entertaining programme also has an extraordinary participatory ethos. Its outreach programme involves all ages and communities, and actively seeks to encourage and support new writing, acting and performing talent and I cannot state strongly enough how important I think this work is.
I know from personal experience that freeing imagination is liberating. Through a process of enabling communities to represent their own experiences, the process of identity formation is strengthened and a sense of belonging and contribution can be facilitated. Moreover, the opportunity to present new voices means the opportunity for different life experiences to be seen and heard. Theatre outreach is progressive, arguably political, and has huge potential for the generation of positive and respectful approaches to social coexistence.
I am hugely grateful to the team at the Stephen Joseph Theatre for showcasing my work and for their dynamic approach to ‘theatre in community’.
I can’t end this post without giving a big shout out to the fabulous cast. Andrew Dunn (@theMr Andrew Dunn); Siu-see Hung (@siuseehung); Sarah Pearman (@_sarahpearman); Chris Jack and Jacky Naylor. They were amazing.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘unreliable narrator’.
I read Catriona Ward’s ‘Last House on Needless Street’ (Viper Press, 2021) which is listed as ‘gothic thriller’, ‘horror’, ‘psychological thriller’ depending on which blurb you read. I am mindful of not giving away any spoilers so I won’t go into too much detail about my response to the book, other than I loved it. It wasn’t what I expected at all. I did not see the ending coming and, upon ‘end of the book review’ I was seriously impressed with the cleverly woven drip and hide of information throughout the story. This is a very well-crafted book with love and kindness at its heart.
There are several POV characters – including a cat! Is everyone telling the truth? What is the truth of any story anyway? I have pondered this a lot because my Mother died on the day I finished Ward’s book.
People often say things about the aftermath of death being challenging and it is on so many levels. Managing the practicalities of death admin whilst experiencing grief which ebbs and floods and fogs is exhausting. In the context of such a challenging path to navigate it is so so easy to fall into preciousness about stories. Perhaps it was already obvious to everyone except me but my stories about Mam, are not the same stories that others share and similarly, theirs have, at times, appeared to be about someone I never even met.
It doesn’t mean they are wrong, or that some stories are more valid than others, though it was interesting to me that I felt solid ground as the ‘reliable narrator’ while considering other stories, somewhat ‘unreliable’ and of course, this is actually nonsense.
Mam was the person who first introduced me to books
She taught me to read before I started school and then stood up to the teacher who demanded I read Janet and John books while, thanks to Mam, I was already relishing The Chronicles of Narnia. She is still sending me lessons from her Heaven (a story she believed but I don’t).
Readers to a large (but not exclusive) extent, need a reliable narrator because that is all they have when they invest their precious time in a story crafted to entertain. But as an author, I am now more consciously mindful that there is no objective truth, everything is subjective and everyone is someone else to everyone else – including themselves. Facts do not speak for themselves and that is perfectly right and fine.
I now understand more clearly that every single story has unreliable narrators. As a writer, I am a better storyteller if I consider how characters in my stories understand and respond to their perception of the ‘truth’ of any other character’s point of view.
Thanks Mam, for everything. Xx
RIP Yvonne Frances Collinson 31st January 1940 – 3rd April 2022
I am immensely proud of this contribution to Queer Spaces – a production produced by @Rootstouring. It is well written and I am no performer but I wanted to give it a go. I didn’t do bad all things considered. Mostly though, I am proud of making a small contribution to a dyke history archive which is, of course, a part of the LGBTQIA history archive. We were there, we were queer and we weren’t going shopping 🙂
Definition: denoting a trial impression of a page or printed work
Definition: evidence establishing a fact or the truth of a statement.
I received the proof copy of my novel. This established the fact that my novel is soon to be published.
I am stupidly proud of it and of course, there will be the fanfare of a proper launch and endless tweets/social media posts and yada yada yada when the time comes (there are some typesetting errors to correct which is frustrating but part of the process), but for now… just enjoying the feel of it.
In a previous blog post I pondered on what ‘queer spaces’ are
My contribution to the Roots Touring production of ‘Queer Spaces Live!’ was a reflective piece on, specifically, dyke bars I frequented in my younger days. I spoke about how the UK community/communities of queers fought so hard for the right for any and all spaces to be inclusive but we hadn’t, arguably, considered what we might lose once they are.
Thanks to the amazing Tyler Whiting for the photo!
Almost all of the spaces I came out into and grew up in have gone. Some we are well rid of (Wednesday evening community centre women’s discos, bring your own booze, finished at 10:00, dodge the mean feral youths who waited for us on the way out) but other spaces were places of growth and love and fun and adventure. They were places to meet and belong. They were uniquely lesbian and gay spaces – The Alex, Vox and Sill in Hull, The Marlborough, the Candy Bar and Revenge in Brighton. Four of those venues are closed. One is no longer a dyke bar but advertises as ‘everyone is welcome’. Only one specifically identifies as a specifically gay venue.
Does it matter? Should we lament the loss of so many distinctly queer spaces or celebrate that everywhere is potentially our space now?
I don’t know
What was fascinating about the Queer Spaces Live! production was that each of the performers spoke of claiming space in one way or the other, but a thread throughout each was that the spaces needed to be claimed. Whilst people were radically empowered to take the spaces there was a centrality to the essential nature of the spaces as queer; as distinct; as vulnerable.
The performances within Queer Spaces Live! Suggested to me that Queer Space is still, on the one hand contested for its challenge and, on the other hand, a place for forming identity. Queer spaces are still places of resistance. Do they need to be distinctly queer spaces to offer this?
I don’t know – but I think so
The Roots Touring Company created a queer space. It is what it does. For me there was an exciting circularity to the space being created and what the performers did with it – and that it felt like a space of bold activism as well as the creation of beautiful art.
I must give a shout out to the people involved. Oh. My. Days. My colleague performers were extraordinarily talented – and generously supportive of my own lack of performing talent (note: I am now a BAFTA level talent on acting ‘milling about’ thanks to their teaching – I owe you guys 🙂 ).
• Phoenix Andrews • Emma Bates • Joy Cruickshank • Erin Enfys • Arden Fitzroy • Max Percy • Ela Portnoy • Eliza Beth Stevens
presented stories of growth and love and challenge and joy and each were MAGNIFICENT. Keep an eye out for these names because they are uniquely and breathtakingly talented and they are going to take over the whole world. I can hardly believe I had the privilege and joy of sharing a stage with them.
None were forced to be involved in the performance. Like me, they chose to be in it – to invest their time and energy and share their powerful, compelling stories and lay themselves open to critique. It seems fairly safe to presume that also like me, they thought this was an important space to create. Were we individually and collectively invested in the creation of a specifically queer space?
(Eliza and Ela at Portal Bookshop in York. An inspiration for Eliza’s monologue)
I think so
I have to also give a shout out to the team that made Queer Spaces Live! happen. Producer Steven Atkinson, Director Ali Pidsley and Dramaturg Frazer Flintham. Despite the fact that I am literally old enough to be their mother and we play for different teams, I have a bit of a crush on all of them. A magician once told me that magic only looks convincingly effortless with hours and hours of work and commitment to being the best. These three created magic. They held the making of the performance so carefully and safely they enabled us all to grow. I am a better human being, more confident, and proud of myself because of their talent and I will literally never forget them for enabling me to perform
(Steven, Frazer and me after rehearsals).
Queer spaces provide us with places we can be ourselves and lower our defences. They give us a place for celebration and being together – and also places where we can value each other.
Queer spaces are where we are but not everywhere we might be, is a queer space
Until we can be confident about inclusivity, queer spaces have a crucial role in resistance to oppression.
Thanks to Roots Theatre Touring Company for creating one.