Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Everybody Hurts...Sometimes

The writer writes because he/she is compelled to.  Just as the painter is compelled to paint, the sculptor to sculpt, the actor to act.  The fact is most artists, with the exception of a few—Hirst, JKR, Liam Neeson, find it difficult to make ends meet.  We don’t begrudge the high earners their success—they too will have suffered and made sacrifices, we are inspired by it, but the fact remains, creating art does not provide a steady income.  Most artists, be they writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, have to work day jobs to subsidise their income, or simply go without…holidays, clothes, new cars…  Actors, who we might applaud in the theatre or recognise in the odd TV drama, whilst “resting” in between roles are often to be found working at not very glamorous jobs in order to be able to make themselves available when a part becomes available.

It is the artist’s choice then, some would say.  They are choosing to “suffer for their art”.  Some might say an artist has to suffer to in order to create great art, that suffering enhances creativity, take the work of Van Cough, the seemingly tortured paintings of Goya, the music of Ella Fitzgerald.

Going without is not so much an option, of course, for the artist who has family/children dependent on them, which leads me to my topic.  Peel back the layers and look at most “creative” individuals trying to promote themselves via the media or social forums on the Internet and you will find…a person!  If you get to know that person a little better, read between the lines, if you will, you will begin to realise that the person has suffered in some way, grown from that suffering, very probably, finding in themselves exceptional qualities to cope, perhaps with loss, poverty, depravation, oppression, bullying. Often calling on hidden strengths and giving of unremitting love and dedication to support ailing parents, spouses, special children. 

As human beings we cannot fail to feel for the casualties of the terrible dual tragedy in Japan, the oppressed people of Libya, the victims of the floods in India…so many world tragedies.  Compassion unites us as people, or it should.  We have to support those so tragically less fortunate than ourselves.  And, for the most part, we do.  Our generosity of spirit as a Nation is overwhelming when we are called upon by those who need us.

Knowing we are capable of such compassion then, take time to look a little harder at the people we interact with on a daily basis, whether it be face-to-face or via some other communication forum (as fellow Brit Writers’ Awards author Sinead Gillespie pointed out in her blog Sinead: An author with an Aspie).  Take a look.  Read Sinead’s other blogs, while you are there.  Find out about the person.  Likewise, take a moment to look at Claire Kinton’s recent blog Living with Dyslexia.  Both blogs will strike chords for many people.  As authors, we share this information precisely for that reason, to help other people and, importantly, hopefully, to inspire.

We all, whoever we are, have most likely suffered life’s psychological and emotional dramas.  It’s part of being human.  Kindness and understanding is something we can offer others to ease that suffering sometimes…and it costs nothing.  We can give that freely.  We could even have a “be kind to people” Internet philosophy.  It’s a thought.  A lot of people get hurt by unkind comment via internet forums, occasionally with catastrophic consequences.

I have someone “special” in my life.  I can’t share more, for his sake.  This I will say though.  Yesterday, after his hospital appointment and while I was standing petrified, literally frozen with shock to the spot, that person took the initiative that others couldn’t and whisked a toddler—a rosy-cheeked, smiling toddler—from the path of an oncoming bus.  There were several other buses behind it, coming at speed along a city centre bus lane.  Beside herself, the little girl’s mum burst into tears.  My heart stopped.  My special person shrugged—as if he did that kind of thing twice a day and marched on. 

A very special person indeed. 

Life can be kind.  Equally, it can be terribly cruel.  We all suffer.  Let’s be a little kinder to each other. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

Every day in every way…

…we are getting stronger.  After the first Brit Writers’ Awards cluster group meeting yesterday, I am pretty sure each participant feels like singing it out loud.   And what is so fantastic, is that we are growing enough in confidence to sing it out loud.  More importantly, talk out loud—and confidently—about the books we have been working hard to perfect in order to give publishers what they really want.

We have now reached the crucial editing stage (yes, most of our books have been edited, tweaked, and re-edited, but we are now looking at editing by some of the best in the business and definitely “in the know”). Confidentiality agreements in the interest of all parties I am afraid prevents us naming names at this stage.  So sorry.  

We all believe (because, as a writer, you just have to believe.  And how great is it that the Brit Writers’ Awards have backed up that belief?) that we have written something worthy of being taken on by a publisher.  As most authors know though, writing is a solitary occupation where self-doubt can fester.  Eventually you have to urge the idea you have nurtured and fretted over until it has grown into a fully-fledged book gently out of the nest in hopes it might fly.  With submission, however, comes many a rejection, which, as hard as you try not to let it, chips away at your confidence. Speaking in public then, the aim being to give a concise, punchy and riveting presentation to a…OMG!...publishing team…  Well, put it this way, I would rather jump out of a plane.  And I know.  I’ve done it!

Here’s the thing though, we are terribly nervous (of course we are), but sliding under the table not being an option in public, we bite the bullet and launch into our spiel.  Just as with our pitches and synopses, it soon becomes clear that each and every person is there because they have written something original and a little bit, dare I say, unique!?  It soon also becomes clear that we need to untie our tongues and sell it.  What becomes abundantly clear is, wait for it…how to! 

There will be many a child wondering whether their writer mummy/daddy has gone completely gaga this weekend as said mummy or daddy hisses, shhhhhh, I’m talking...to myself.  Many a pet dog rolling its eyes.   But we will do it, because BWA have shown us the way.

Thank you Imran, Zareen and Joanna for another superbly organised, totally inspiring meeting.  Thanks also to Naomi, our in-group radio presenter, for organising the podcasts, and to Georgina for the social media expertise.  We simply couldn’t do it without you.     

See you in two weeks time, when we meet again.  Oh, dear, is that someone else I hear launching into song?

Just to close and for Lilly, who may not have seen the links fellow-participant Eiry has kindly posted, here is Spencer Ratcliff’s latest radio interview with Ian Wyatt of BBC Radio Essex.  Spencer (also a BWA Publishing Programme participant) divides his time between Australia and the UK and has spent most of his life working as a journalist. His novel THE VOICES OF CRABTREE LANE is set in an Essex country village in 1958, still reeling from the aftermath of war. The action hinges around the moment when the community's halcyon days of innocence come to a tragic end when popular boy, little Johnny Button, disappears while walking his dog.

Spencer's fourth interview – 1:51 into the programme well worth a listen:

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Moving Forward...

…so smoothly, it leaves me doubly in awe of the Brit Writers’ Awards organisation.  Thanks due to Zareen and Joanna (and all the other conscientious workers behind the scenes) and Imran, of course. 

We are now at the cluster meeting stage.  I keep wanting to call them culture meetings :), which might go some way to describing how I (and I think I can speak for all the participants of the BWA Publishing Programme here) feel coming away from the various group and one-to-one meetings we’ve already attended.  These smaller group meetings should be interesting, and a little bit nail-bitingly nerve-wracking, as our sweated over, re-worked, re-written and finely honed mss are now at that all-important editing stage. I know most people on the group are used to edits, so that in itself is not a problem.  Our concern is in ensuring our writing is “good enough”.  Dare I say, better than good enough?

We are all looking forward to our next group meeting in London.  There are some excellent writing relationships and good friendships already being formed, which is fantastic, particularly as we are all aware of the demands writing and juggling life, work and family makes on our time (and the sometimes frayed tempers and necessary self-isolation that goes with the territory). 

Progress reports will follow but, for now, I am afraid I cannot reveal more, confidentiality being something both the BWA and each participant is prepared to respect.  On the subject of confidentiality, I offered my really riveting (not) story so far on the rocky road to publication to a blog, mainly because I think shared information might lead to a more balanced view on anything “new”.  Mentioning I had had various agents along the way, I was met with, what agents(!?) along with an invitation(?) demand(?) to name them, presumably to validate my story. 

I don’t think so.

Personally, having followed protocol for years, sometimes not even daring to submit simultaneously, as required by some agents, and then waiting patiently to die of old age, I am rejoicing in this refreshing approach by the BWA and will continue to share.  However, naming agents ain’t on the agenda, sorry.  Why on earth would I want to seem to be denigrating people who I genuinely believe did their best for me?  More importantly, believed in me enough to do so? 

The fact is, not everyone taken on by an agent is going to get published in a struggling industry where, even coming out of recession, it can only ever offer publication to a limited number of people.  It doesn’t mean that every other writer isn’t “good enough”. There is some real talent being passed over, because there are simply not enough slots to fill, or eyes out there to read and spot that talent.  I, along with other participants, have said we will say if we feel we have been duped/scammed/taken for a ride/treated unfairly by the BWA.  We don’t, for information.  I would also speak out if I thought I had been treated so badly by an agent, because—and I reiterate—I think it’s important to share information to attain a balanced view.

Unfortunately, the aggressive response by some of the people on these various forums, has led to others withdrawing from them.  No one wants to feel put down or bullied, after all, do they?  OK, I’ve said my bit.

For now, moving forward, I’m off to isolate myself! 

I would just like to end by wishing Claire Kinton, author of the excellent book DEAD GAME—an extraordinary story of triumph over adversity—huge GOOD LUCK on Thursday (World Book Day) when she goes to her local secondary school to talk to two-hundred students about her book and her publishing journey.  Don’t be nervous, Claire.  Stand tall.  You talk beautifully and I just know those children will relate totally DEAD GAME and to you.  Here’s to sharing and inspiring.

Last but not least—and also in the spirit of sharing, below is a link to Spencer Ratcliff’s latest radio interview with Ian Wyatt of BBC Radio Essex.  Spencer (also a BWA Publishing Programme participant) divides his time between Australia and the UK and has spent most of his life working as a journalist. His novel THE VOICES OF CRABTREE LANE is set in an Essex country village in 1958, still reeling from the aftermath of war. The action hinges around the moment when the community's halcyon days of innocence come to a tragic end when popular boy, little Johnny Button, disappears while walking his dog.

Spencer’s broadcast is 1:54 along.  Please do have a listen. It warm, witty and extremely interesting.
Write on, guys!