The Unreliable Narrator

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

Mam and me 1959, Hull.

My Queer Spaces video

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 🙂

Proof

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.

Queer Spaces Revisited

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.  

Queer Spaces

I’ve been lucky enough to be chosen as one of the writers contributing to the ‘Queer Spaces Live!’ project.  Developed by Roots – the queer Yorkshire touring theatre company and support funded by Arts Council England and The National Lottery Community Fund – the project aims to make collaborative work about ‘queer spaces’. The stories created will be shared at two live performances at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough and the York Theatre Royal in March 2022. 

I don’t struggle to make stories. I have far more stories than I have time to either write or craft. I know exactly which story I want to tell and contribute but the notion of queer spaces is so loaded with history and politics and pain and joy it feels incredibly important to me to tell it right and to tell it well.

I’ve been pondering on what exactly a queer space is

Is it about the environment – ‘in-space’ and ‘out space’? Certainly back when I came out there were very definite places where one could be reasonably safely out, and other spaces such as work where it was critical to be ‘in’ (teacher in 80s Thatcher Clause 28 Britain for example). As I write this I am mindful that there are many places in the world where ‘in-space’ is still the only safe space.

Is it about architecture? Dance floors in clubs, sites of sanctuary and refuge and the unlearning of shame, closets which concealed but also protected us.

I think of queer effort and energy put into constructing alternatives to heteronormative spaces and how over history they have changed from the dodgy, poppers smelling dens of debauchery of my youth to the out-and-fucking-well-proud-get-over-it-girlfriend cruises and high-end apartment complexes.  We queers changed space.

I think about how the personal is political and how we inhabited and embodied space, strutted like peacocks affirming ourselves and others and how in the taking of space we didn’t always take enough care about who was taking what from whom.

I think about queer history and experiences of queer spaces back in the day and contemporarily being different for each of us for a myriad of complicated and politically loaded reasons.

And I wonder if I can do justice to all these stories.

Gratitude to Sand Crain for the flag on building and Juliette F for the dancing queens images – via Unsplash. Appreciate your work guys. Thank you. xx

#ScarboroughStories

Arcade is a Scarborough based charity committed to making cultural, collaborative experiences happen.

Scarborough Stories is a community initiative co-produced by Arcade (@arcade_hello) and The Stephen Joseph Theatre.  It is, quite simply, a stonkingly amazing project and you should go and read their information about the project here https://www.hello-arcade.com/scarborough-stories

From Spring 2022 a stack of exciting workshops are being offered – completely free.

I was fortunate enough to attend a Creative Writing workshop led by Shan Barker of Arcade and Allie Watt of the fabulous Beach Hut Theatre Company (@BeachHutTheatre).  Participants were encouraged to think about how we individually respond and contribute to Scarborough – however we perceive it. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that responses and feelings had a commonality across the group – there was a lot of love for Scarborough!  Individuals wrote poetry and prose about favourite places, sights and sounds.  The stories will be shared using the #ScarboroughStories hashtag and collated for inclusion in the project finale later in the summer. 

I also had the joy of attending the ‘Explore your story through music’ workshop Led by Rebecca Denniff (@rebeccadenniff). This was always going to be a workshop taking me out of my comfort zone – although I like karaoke as much as the next singing in the shower person, I have zero musical talent. To be honest, at the beginning I did feel a little self-conscious as Rebecca had the group making and creating sounds to go alongside words laid on the floor in a timeline. I could baa like a sheep reasonably well but was significantly less able to voice other images of Scarborough – fortunately, there were a lot of very creative people in the room who could! Rebecca had us all creating sounds and soundscapes in no time and eventually, we actually came up with an entire (folk) song about Scarborough. It was like magic and great fun.

I hadn’t intended to go to any more workshops but they are so excellent I had to sign up for another being led by Jayne Shipley (@jaynewriting) – a textile artist who will be drawing on the history of sail and seaside to lead us towards new stories.  I can’t wait.

The series of workshops are all listed https://www.hello-arcade.com/scarborough-stories and there are still places in future workshops for Jaynes textile workshop, song writing and photography.  You’d be mad not to sign up!

If you have a Scarborough Story – of beach, donkeys, ice cream, the Castle, swimming, the beach huts, the pathways, the alleys, the amusements, the parks, the people, the theatres – whatever, do share it either via the portal at the above link or via social media using the hashtag #scarboroughstories.

Collated stories are going to be celebrated at the big finale taking place around Scarborough early in July.  I am sure it will be a magnificent event!

Thanks to ‘My life through a lens’ for ‘together we create’; Clark Tibbs for ‘do something great’ and Gonzalo Facello for the Scarborough images via Unsplash. Much appreciate your work guys!

Identity – who?

The OED defines identity as
‘The fact of being who or what a person or thing is’ or ‘a close similarity or affinity’.

The ‘fact’ part of the definition is a bit on the dodgy side (as far as my pondering goes anyway) because it is ‘a thing that is known or proved to be true’ while ‘true’ is ‘in accordance with fact or reality’.

Thanks to Brett Jordan for the image via Unsplash

It is a fact that the writer of this blog is LF Meleyal. That is the name on my passport and it is a true fact that the passport belongs to me. I have a close similarity to the person photographed on that document so it is safe to say, I am LF Meleyal – Lel to my friends, Dr Meleyal to people who ask me ‘is that Miss or Missus?’

But for a year this blog was called ‘The Guardian Review’ (why is explained on the tab pages at the blog page header).  Later it was labelled ‘Creative Writing: Competitions’. More recently I changed its name to ‘The Complex Scribe’ to accommodate the fact that the focus of the blog had shifted away from writing competition entry specifically onto general waffling about writing.

My novel is being published this year. The publishers, and colleague writers, have emphasised the importance of having a visible online ‘platform’. I have very definitely preferred the anonymity of not having my name or face attached to my blog. Partly this was because of my previous professional role.  I used to teach at a university and it felt messy having elements of me visible. It isn’t that I ever wrote about anything especially private, or controversial but I wanted a clear separation between work and non-work.

If I am really honest I probably also hid behind my blogs because I lacked confidence in my writing.  Imposter syndrome, as a million writers on twitter would agree, is acutely felt. Despite a reasonable track record of writing and the fact that I am now Chair of the Scarborough Writers’ Circle, it wasn’t until my novel was accepted for publication I developed the confidence to call myself a writer.

Now it is time to own it. I am LF Meleyal and I am a writer and that is true.

This is my blog.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pondering semi-colons; my book; and competition entries

My son bought me a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway as a Christmas present. He is working his way through a long list of classics (admirable) and said of those he had read so far, this was his favourite. I had to confess I had not read Virginia Woolf. As a feminist, this seemed like a particularly shameful confession because although Woolf was conflicted about labelling herself a feminist, so many women I admire hold her in near saintly esteem. When I started reading Mrs Dalloway I remembered (at least one of the reasons) why I had avoided her work. The semi-colons.

As most people interested in the written word will know, the story details Clarissa Dalloway’s day as she prepares to host a party. She muses and ponders as various characters are introduced. The writing style is a jumbled, poetic and wordy stream of consciousness slipping between different narrative points of view.

The interesting themes of the book are widely discussed, debated and deconstructed but the thing that stops me being able to make any tiny contribution to the discussion is the semicolon.

The semicolon litters the book like particularly invasive confetti – it germs the book to a point where I can’t get past the irritation of it to enable me to see the work in all its discussed glory.

I have never been a fan of the semicolon. A recent editor of some of my work invited me to add them to a particular paragraph. I had to re-write the whole thing because although I could see where she was going with it, why the suggestion had been made – and even how it might subtly add nuance to the paragraph – I just couldn’t litter my text with them.

As we all know, a semicolon is used to link two separate, equally positioned but closely related ideas in a single sentence.

I understand they have more about them than simple lists. I completely get that they can add a particular quality to a sentence. I am aware of many great authors who not only praise their utility but consider they add beauty to text. I am not one of them. I am in good company.  Hemingway preferred short declarative sentences honed to acute sharpness.

In a written text I like the perfect word choice. Also, the weighty space of a period rather than the ephemeral dainty pause of the semicolon.

However, one of the great things that often happens when I finally read an avoided or neglected classic work is that I am forced to consider why I haven’t read it earlier. In this case, to revisit my animosity towards the semicolon. Perhaps, maybe I am considering a softening towards considering the possibility of it being (as Abe Lincoln said) ‘A useful little chap’. I’m not sure. I need to ponder…

In any case, I will of course finish Mrs Dalloway – because I think I should and also because I will look forward to discussing with my son why he enjoyed it so much but whether it will nudge me towards more semicolon use remains to be seen.

In other news…

I submitted my novel to the publisher’s deadline.  The wheels towards publication are in motion and after submission, I felt a little bit ‘what now?’.  It is a strange space to be in and I had a peculiar gap of feeling I should be writing but despite lots of ideas not having any motivation. It lasted for most of January. I don’t recall reading about gap management in any ‘writers process’ type scripts.  Stephen King and many others say they write word count every day – does this mean they don’t perceive ‘gaps’?

Anyway, fortunately, last week I suddenly got my AWOL mojo back and wrote and submitted three short stories to competitions, a trilogy of poems to an online anthology and started on my next novel.  So far no semicolons have been used.

Writing – hobby, passion or work?

My novel – ‘Everyday Wendy’ is to be published in 2022 (more details to follow).  To a required deadline, I’ve spent most of the past year editing my story into a publishable work.  I’ve learned more from the process than I could ever have imagined.

I have notebooks full of ideas for stories.  I have shelves of books on writing craft which I’ve studied and drawn upon in an effort to improve my writing. I read a broad range of genres. For a number of years, I’ve written every day and enjoyed creating playgrounds and characters. I’ve been lucky with having a few things published too – even won a couple of prizes for my writing.

The past year has taught me the difference between being a hobby writer and a career writer.

Turning my novel into a publishable draft has been work. Several hours a day, most weekdays, concentrated graft. Don’t get me wrong – it’s been an adventure and fun and through the process, I believe I have learned how better to write my next novel. I will write another novel (I have two more in the planning stage) but I’ve needed to ponder on whether I want to be ‘a writer’ and if I do, why (Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash).

I love creating worlds. Even more than this though are the many surprises I find in those worlds.  Remembering those moments sat at my desk, tapping away on a keyboard when I’m taken to ‘oh, OK then – didn’t see that coming’, makes me smile. I love that. I love finding the essence of the thing – chewing over the right word to use, how best to show emotion or find the right hook to make a reader want to turn the page.  When a story works, when it does what I had hoped it would do with the richest of words and the most crafted of forms, I am happy.  Writing makes me happy. If, sometimes, my writing makes other people happy too, even better.

Writing for me is more than a hobby – I need to write

I don’t know who I am without it and a few days away from a keyboard has me twitchy.  Even on beach sunbeds, I’m making notes on dialogue heard and possible settings.

Do I want it to be work though? I’m not looking for another career – I’ve had one of those and very fine it was too but life now takes a different pace. Indeed, it is a pace and with space that allows me the joy of writing. Making writing my job would suck the joy out of it I think. (Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Hopefully, the novel will be successful, sold all over the world, goes into paperback, options taken, book tours. Yada yada (living the novelists dream for a moment there…. But if, as is more likely, this is not what happens I guess I will carry on joyfully writing anyway.