Stephen Joseph Theatre Friday 18th March (tickets here)
York Theatre Royal Saturday 19th March (tickets here)
Roots Touring Magic
(Yes I am in it and yes I am proud).
Writer. Fiction mostly, non-fiction sometimes. Novel 'Everyday Wendy' published 2022. Available from all fabulous booksellers and on my page link. Next one on the go.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How can it be that I haven’t posted since February? No blog posts about writing but I have been writing – more than ever before.
I have finished the first draft of my current novel (120k words) and am now at ‘structural edit’ phase. I must admit this phase of novel construction has stymied me in earlier writing. When I wrote my doctoral thesis I presented what I confidently told my supervisors was my final, final draft. They had different ideas. I nearly exploded when they said it needed a ‘re-jig’ into more chapters. It was the hardest writing task ever – until I tried to do it for my last novel.
My last novel is a story I am proud of and am sure it has merit worthy of a second draft but I didn’t know how to do it. I tried but it was like wrangling cats and I gave up. It is sitting in a file waiting for attention.
Fortunately, I have learned a lot since then. The structural edit on my current work is difficult but exciting and I am confident I will be sending my next draft out to my beta readers at the end of July. Wish me luck.
I don’t usually have more than one WIP on the go at a time but I do try to write short pieces – stories, articles and blog posts – to help to take my mind to a different place. It helps broaden focus and give a breathing space for ideas.
In June I was astounded to win a prize for a short story.
The story had to be under 1k words, be based on a historical event and include content factually accurate. My story ‘Into the Depths’ is a fictionalised account of one of the rescuers of survivors of the Titanic.
The competition was run by The Scarborough Writing Circle who awarded me a marvellous plaque. Many thanks to the SWC for their generous feedback and the award. I am chuffed to bits to have won.
All writers should of course be readers too and I have been doing a lot of that. I have to take the opportunity to spread the word about poet Dean Wilson (@Poetdeanwilson6). I am not a huge fan of Twitter but I first became aware of his work through tweets of the films made by Director/Producer/Filmmaker Dave Lee (@davelee1968) of Dean reading his poetry. The poetry and films are glorious. Funny, poignant, clever and powerful.
Dean also has something of a twitter following for his ‘pebble of the day’ posts which, in partnership with Dr Karen Turner (@k_j_turner) a textile artist who has turned Dean’s pebble photo’s into a wonderfully crafted, detailed, hand stitched quilt, have become a most remarkable art exhibition of talent you could hardly imagine unless seen with your own eyes. The exhibition is currently on display at Withernsea Light House until October 2021 and is well worth a visit.
While I was there, I had the good fortune to be able to buy Dean’s latest book of poetry ‘Take Me Up the Lighthouse’
The poems in this small collection have a quality and integrity which puts them up there, with, in my opinion Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. The poems speak to contemporary experience in all its richness, lend to being read or spoken, are accessible and enjoyable, funny and warm, cheeky and poignant. His work takes poetry in a fresh and beguiling direction.
Dean’s books are published by Wrecking Ball Press (Hull) and I strongly recommend you check them out.
Now… back to writing….
As far as running a blog goes, 2020 did not go according to plan. In 2019 I wrote two pieces every month and had every intention to achieve the same on my differently focussed blog for the following year. As I wrote in my first 2020 post, I planned to enter a writing competition every month. The competitions had to take me into unfamiliar writing arenas. I aimed to write a piece about my writing process and, depending on the outcomes, post the submitted pieces on my blog. Up to July, it was going well. Enthusiasm was high and I had done OK in the competitions – a win and a couple of commendations. And then… we all know what happened then. Lockdown.
Lockdown coincided with a family funeral, selling my house and moving 300 miles away. Throw in our house purchase falling through leaving us homeless and I had a perfect storm of ‘stressful situation’. Fortunately, homelessness was seen off by belongings going into storage and my partner and I moving into a caravan on a lovely peaceful site while we looked for a new house to buy. We had a bit of an extended summer holiday and it was lovely. Then the government decreed that the site had to close. We were fortunate to be able to find a fully furnished rental which allowed pets but again… ‘stress’ doesn’t cover how challenging the period was. For the record, a word of advice: don’t sell a house in a pandemic or try to move 300 miles in a lockdown.
Thanks to Georgy Rudakov Via Unsplash for the image
I stopped writing. From the end of June 2020 until mid-January 2021 I did not write as much as a shopping list. It wasn’t apathy, fugue or procrastination. With hindsight I think it was process-related – I simply got out of my ‘groove’ which included elements of physical space (my lost office and only having my laptop to work on) and different measurements of time in a lockdown.
What kickstarted me back into a groove was the astounding news from Pen to Print that I am one of their ten Book Challenge Competition winners. Way back at the beginning of 2020 I submitted a synopsis and first chapter of a novel. Submissions are filtered down to ten winners and I was one of the ten. The winners all get mentoring support to get the book to publication. The prize is worth £5k. Next year, the ten completed books will also go into a final competition and the ultimate winner will be chosen.
I am beyond thrilled to win such a valuable prize which is packed with opportunity. Pen to Print has a great deal of book industry respect and support and I am so lucky to be joining their stable of writers. I have already (virtually) ‘met’ my fellow writers and the mentor team and am at last writing again – with a curious wonder that I ever left something I love so much.
For those unfamiliar with Pen to Print do check out their website at https://pentoprint.org/ They run amazing competitions and fabulous courses.
I will not, mostly, be entering competitions in 2021 but I will be focussed on completing my novel. So, I am changing the name of the blog to reflect the different writing focus this year. I will continue to blog about my process as the year goes on.
PS Am delighted to have had a poem, ‘FUG’ (about lockdown) accepted for the annual on-line Febulous (sic) February blog. I have recorded a reading of the poem which is to be played on Medway Pride Radio sometime in February. I will add a link when I get it.
In the past week, the winner and runners up of the Harpers Bazaar short story competition 2020 were announced. Huma Qureshi (@huma_quareshi_uk) tweeted about her win with her short story ‘The Jam Maker’ and posted a copy of the page which also gives the names of the runners up. Unfortunately, I was unable to zoom on and read the posted pages in full and cannot find it online so am unable to comment on the story or name the runners up. However,@BernardineEvari who judged the competition described the story as “fresh, lively & gorgeous” and given the popularity and profile of this annual competition, there is every reason in the world to look forward with great relish to reading Huma’s story. With a warm heart, I congratulate her for her success.
I am disappointed for myself though. I submitted to this competition and was not shortlisted.
Thanks to Steve Johnson @ Unsplash for the image
I set myself a task this year of writing for competition every month of 2020 and apart from a wee flurry of success back in January, haven’t won anything since so I am an old hand at rejection now. As my writing journey this year is a bit of a lark with the actual aim of improving my writing skills (rather than winning per se), and as I am thoroughly enjoying it and believe I am improving my skills, not winning comps has not stung at all so far – until this particular competition.
The story I submitted is, I think, the best thing I have ever written. It is not autobiographical but does draw upon family history. It is well researched. I am satisfied with the voice, the story arc and the literary quality of the piece. I am proud of it.
Without feedback from the competition judges, it is impossible to know why it was not successful. All I can do is learn and remember that rejection of this piece does not mean it is bad – it just means it wasn’t right for Harpers this year. I do, however, need to carefully think about whether it is in fact good enough. I will be sending it to more readers for feedback and appraisal. I may even pay an editor to critique it.
Rejection is a positive opportunity
Thanks to Hello I’M Nik @Unsplash for the image.
So, I am trying to focus on this being a positive opportunity. Edison, when creating the light bulb, famously said: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. So, time for me to take a deep breath, and get on with writing.
An unexpected comp opportunity came up this week. Alyson Hilborne (@ABBK1) via Patsy Collins (@PatsyCollins) alerted me to the Scottish Book Trust’s call for stories – only the stories had to be on the theme of ‘fog’ and no more than 50 words!
A couple of my flash fiction stories are published. Both were 300 words. It was great fun writing each, but I also learned a lot about determined and ferocious editing, economy and preciseness of word choice and the importance of a tight narrative arc.
I wrote another short non-fiction piece for a collection of first-person accounts of Brighton’s queer history*. The work was edited by poet Maria Jastrzebska (@mariajastrz) who pressed over and over for me to edit the piece when I thought it was already perfectly fine as it was. Of course, she was absolutely right, and the final published version told a story and told it well. I learned a great deal from Maria through this process which I have taken into my future work. (I take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thanks for Maria’s guidance and fabulous editing).
Twitter hosts stacks of micro-fiction writers and I have seen some awesomely creative stories as good as, and better than, the famous ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’ story attributed to Hemingway. It seems to me that writing micro-shorts takes a focused and concise way of thinking and while I am fairly good at editing content out these days, I wasn’t sure I could write to that exacting 50 word max count.
In the end, I wrote a long list of words to describe my experience of fog, then eliminated 90% of them. The words left on my edited list evoked feelings and a context in which such feelings might be experienced. So, I ended up with a story and, it has now been submitted.
A quick google shows a range of suggestions about fiction lengths.
Editor Jodie Renner (@JodieRennerEd) has written a great blog post listing typical lengths for each type of fictional work. It can be found here
*Queer In Brighton. Edited by Maria Jaztrzebska and Anthony Luvera. New Writing South. 2014