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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Confessions of a Writer Tag

It's been a while since I've been tagged, but someone caught me - the delightful Madeleine, and fair's fair, if someone catches you, you get to be the next chaser. While I'm chasing some other writers - did I catch you? - I have some questions to answer on being a writer. This, I'm going to enjoy. It's been a while since I thought about myself and the writing process :-) So, thank you, Madeleine, for giving me an excuse for a little self-indulgence, and time to consider what I do and why I do it.
[originator of tag by Nicolette Elzie at  A Little Bookish, A Little Writerly - please link back to her post, and let me know if and when you do it :-) ]
Here are my answers (apologies for the length; my strength is not brevity)

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?

The first story I can remember writing was one rainy Sunday afternoon, I must've been about ten, and was a story about Clarabelle the Goat. I can so clearly remember writing it and proudly reading it to my poor family. It was all about a goat that kept butting people from behind, until its horns became caught in a sheet hanging from a washing line, while butting the woman behind it. The story was dreadful. But I was proud of it. It was then I decided I wanted to be a writer.

Since then? Thirty years of starting and not finishing stories, books, in between all the other palaver of life. It never occurred to me to study writing at Uni, I being pushed into the sciences by my teachers and parents, since they believed these to be a more worthy subjects.

Well, afterwards, I shucked my degree anyhow, when I started a fashion design business, called Machu Picchu, with my bestie from school. We were successful, which brought with it no time for anything except developing our business. Then I started a family, and was hard-pushed even to run the business, let alone write. Raising four kids, two of whom have/had OCD, and another with anxiety problems, took every waking (and sleeping hour...I didn't get a full night's sleep for ten years!).

It was only in the last few years I took a look at my own dreams, and realised I'd shelved them. It was time to find them and return to them again. But I still couldn't finish the stories I started. I persevered though. Then, I started a blog Words that flow, and met some awesome bloggers, one of which was Tim. We both wanted to do the NaNoWriMo that year, but neither of us had time in November. So we arranged to do it a few months later, and be writing-buddies for each other. That was the first book I ever finished (it's awaiting me to finish editing).

At that point, I realised I could do it. I could write a book. I could fulfil my dream.
Since then, I've written several other of the series of that first book, using NaNoWriMo to get the story down in a month (also awaiting editing).


What genre do you write?

The above-mentioned series is magical realism...an everyday life kinda story, but with something weird/magical that is accepted as part of that reality. Can't wait to finish these books.
And I've also started another book (not mentioned elsewhere) which is more my first literary novel.

However, the book I've just finished writing and editing, and am totally excited about, is another world entirely - seventeenth century London, during a time of anti-Catholic hysteria and The Popish Plot ('Popish' was a word often interchangeable, usually in a derogatory way, with 'Catholic' at the time) - a historical biography.


Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?

I started to write The Popish Midwife in 2012, the 'why' is here. Giving you the storyline won't, I believe, detract from reading the book, as her story is available online, but with three years of research, the novel reveals so much more...

[WARNING: SPOILER ALERT - jump to next question if you don't want to know the storyline]

The Popish Midwife is a true story about Elizabeth Cellier, a Royal, Catholic midwife, who got herself entangled with a conniving scoundrel in Newgate gaol, where she administered alms and relief to the wrongly imprisoned Catholics. Because of her involvement with Thomas Dangerfield, she then knew as Captain Thomas Willoughby, she gets tried for treason.

Getting off was not an option.

But, even though, like all those convicted of treason at the time, she had to defend herself without counsel, she did manage to exonerate herself - yay! And then she wrote a book about her experiences, throwing in details of torture she'd had recorded by Dangerfield while he was in prison.

Bad move.

Not only was it illegal at the time to write a book without a licence, but the things she wrote upset people, people in high places. They charged her with libel and, though she had counsel, she failed to prove her innocence. She was pilloried and jailed, which was fortuitous for those same people in high places, because it stopped her being a witness in trials against other Catholics accused of being involved in the Popish Plot.

You would think that was enough, but no. When she was finally released, Elizabeth (despite now being a figure of derogatory satire as 'The Popish Midwife', in scandal sheets and broadsheets, in taverns and coffee houses across London, and despite being abhorred and reviled, her effigy burned three times in front of tens of thousands at the great annual procession through London) she bounced back to become advisory midwife to the Queen  (Mary of Modena, second wife of King James II). She also wrote a proposal to the King of how he could build and run a Midwife College, that doubled up as an orphanage, on the fees of the midwives attending the college... (Read the book to find out Elizabeth's fate)



What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?

 [please see 'When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?' above]


What’s the best part about writing?

Oh my goodness, where do I start? It's simply where I want to be. You might as well ask any other artist, what is the best thing about creation? It's bringing to life imagination, setting it in a way others might appreciate and enjoy. In the art of writing, it's the telling of a story, to enthral, excite and interest another person. Any other person. Usually, in my mind, an anonymous person. If you make it worthwhile for even one person to have read your story and enjoy it, then you've done the job. Obviously, as a writer, I would like as many as possible to read my stories (particularly The Popish Midwife, since hers is an exciting story, about a woman 'ahead of her time', that I want everyone to know)

I love the writing, the creating. But even more than that, I love the editing, where you take the rough stone and hew it into shape, cutting it and working on it, then polishing it, until it's almost unrecognisable as that initial rock. You can change anything. Nothing needs to remain from the original, except what you want to be there. You can write and re-write, jump back and forwards in the book, like travelling forward and backward in time. It gives you a feeling of power, satisfaction and accomplishment.

It is, as they say, your 'baby'. You give birth to it in the first draft, and lovingly give it whatever time and work it needs to nurture it to the point it can 'fly the nest'. Letting go leaves you bereft, just as in the 'empty nest' syndrome.

The good thing, though, is you can write another book, and another (sometimes several at once). There is no limit, except in the time you can give them. And, as for growing children, if you neglect them, they are never mature enough to survive on their own...and they will flop.



What’s the worst part about writing?

  • Not having enough time/energy in the day to write.
  • Sometimes having to decide between family or writing...one or other, you can't have both.
  • That moment when, staring at a paragraph, you know that, if you change it to how you want it, you're going to have to go through the whole book yet another time, and knowing you're going to have to do it you do it anyway.
  • Waiting for the first readers to tell you what they think of  your 'baby'...


What’s the name of your favourite character and why?

Not sure I understand this question. In my book? It would have to be Elizabeth Cellier, The Popish Midwife, for being a sassy, brave, interfering woman, who didn't just ignore the wrongs happening at the time. Despite being punished for speaking up about them, she continued to stand her ground. I love this woman.


How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

Like for many, writing currently has to fit around my day-job. Or, another way of looking at it, my day job had to fit in with my writing.

I took a job as a (physics) Lab Technician at a local school when my children were growing up. The hours suited me, as I could start and finish at the same time as my kids, and I got to have the long holidays with them (huge bonus!).

The hours also suited me for writing. Because the school is only five minutes away, I write/edit for a half-hour or hour before work, and (when I don't fall asleep on the sofa) I can write for another hour or two in the evening. Sometimes, I really don't feel like writing during the week, but I make myself at least open the laptop and do something, anything, just to keep my hand in.

I also read and edit MS for other writers, which can be all-consuming and leaves me with less time for my own work. Currently, I'm on a hiatus from this so I can finish my own books.

My favourite time to write/edit is the weekend mornings, when I sit in bed (I'm a sloppy writer), with a huge cuppa beside me and Little House on the Prairie in the background (Lol did it say 'confessions'?). I try to keep afternoons free to spend time with my (now grown up) kids or the dreaded housework (while I'm deep in the writing flow, my house becomes a dump! :-) )

Holidays, of course, are a great time to get bigger chunks of writing done, but I do find my writing habit's quite ingrained, so I tend not to do that much more than on other writing days.


Did you go to college for writing?

No. I've read a myriad of books on the process, and tried a distance-learning course, and read lots of articles on the Net, but I would've loved to have done a full-time course where writing was the subject. How amazing that would be.

I went to Stirling University with my heart set on being an immunologist or a marine biologist, but turned out I couldn't face the dissections on the biology course (I didn't know you could refuse them), so I switched my major to Psychology, which I really enjoyed. For some reason, it never occurred to me I could do a writing course at that time! Wish I had.


What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?

In supposedly finished work, especially my own, any errors bother me. They should've been edited out. But in conversational chats, or where you wouldn't expect to edit, it doesn't bother me at all.

When I'm editing other writers' MSs, obviously, that's what I do, I pick up on all those annoying little mistakes and errors that bug other people and stop a smooth reading flow. I'm so pernickerty. One expects a basic level of knowledge about the use of punctuation and grammar, and hope the writer has picked up on more obvious errors they are bound to make while the creativity is in its element., but even the best writers leave spelling mistakes (eg 'their/there', 'here/hear' etc). That's why editors exist, because it's really hard to pick them all up.

In finished work, though, I cringe every time I see an error. I want to correct it, but can't. It makes me pause in reading. It takes me out of the story/article so I see the writing. That's something you don't want as a writer.

Actually, for me, worse than that is a different sort of error...that of 'telling' in a story, instead of 'showing'. Drives me nuts when I see whole chapters describing a scene and what a character does, instead of getting inside the character. Even in third person, it's very easy to 'see/hear/feel' from their point of view without actually saying 'looked/heard/felt'. If I open a book where the author has distanced him/herself from the character like that, I tend to put it down pretty quickly.


What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?

Ooo...that's difficult. So much different advice from different people.

No, I know. It's to expect your first draft to be absolutely s#*t!

I used to edit every sentence/paragraph as I went along. My whole life, I wanted the writing to come out as I imagined it, word-perfect and ready for another reader to admire. Nobody ever saw it. And I never finished any of the books I started. I soon gave up on each of them, because I had to keep going back and making good what I'd already written instead of finishing the story.

Then, before I started my first NaNoWriMo, I read Chris Baty's No Plot No Problem and my life was changed. I didn't have to write perfectly. I just had to tell the story. Editing would turn the bin-able first draft into that story I imagined. Not only shouldn't I expect to write to the quality of a finished book, but the opposite, I should expect it to be a disgrace to the writing world and only bearable because it was the first step of the process. It would get better.

Since then, I've written two whole books, and 3/4 written two or three more, plus have a couple more on the go (all the part-written novels are part of the same series as the first book completed in NaNoWriMo, and one of the reasons they aren't finished, apart from I haven't got around to them yet, is that I want to weave certain story elements throughout all of them, and that takes time :-) )


What advice would you give to another writer?

Try to write every day, even if it's only a few lines. Even on bad days, where you just can't face getting immersed in it, try to write or edit at least one sentence. At the worst, if you only open up the story, read a bit of it but don't do anything, that'll keep it alive in you.

The greatest way of learning to write is to write. Even better is to edit - either your own or other peoples' work - because you become very aware of so many of the niggly little things that bug a reader (you) or stop the story flow...you need to read bad writing as well as good to improve. Actually, editing other folks' writing is better, because you're separated from it, when you often don't notice guffs in your own writing, even when you read through several times (every writer has own-writing blindness and needs another reader to pick up the repetitions/regular errors etc). Being jerked out of a story by other folk's errors/story style can make you aware of what not to repeat in your own work.


What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?

I find the writing community itself is the best encouragement. Writers tend to have certain shared experiences, so when you have an group of writers, and you say something like, 'I'm doing everything but writing', they know what that's all about, and can steer you back to where you want to be (or simply support you in your decision to take a break).

Apart from at Uni, I've never had much luck finding a local writing group.

Just over ten years ago, when I met my first 'writing buddy', Tim, mentioned above, that support was invaluable, and we remain friends today.

I haven't kept up with other NaNoWriMo buddies, and find Facebook is not very satisfying, as I don't find followers so very responsive.

However, the Twitter writing world has been amazing. In a short time I felt welcomed in to so many circles of writing friends (especially through #1linewed . Giving and receiving support is as breathing. Writers around the world are ready to encourage, congratulate, commiserate or whatever's needed at the time...and here I've found writing folk that are 'there' for each other. Twitter wasn't an easy platform for me to start with (luckily, I had the help of my lovely children), but once on, I found making friends and chatting to each other easy...better than I could've imagined!

Another great community is the monthly writing challenge group (on Twitter as #JulyWritingChallenge or #OctoberWritingChallenge ...you get the idea)



Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?

Lots of hobbies, though I don't find time for many.

I love photography (as you might've guessed), and I love walking and astronomy. There's nothing I enjoy more than a pottery painting session with my grown-up kids...the chatting, jokes and ribbing that goes with it! Often I'm torn between either reaching some self-imposed writing deadline or spending more time with the kids, playing games or taking outings together. Either way, whichever I choose, I'm filled with guilt for not doing the other...

I'd also like to have more time to do the gardening, and to keep up my astronomy blogs (listed in the sidebar). And, I'd really, really like to read more published books, that don't need to be worked on. Oh, and I love doing courses, learning how to do new things (currently looking for an inexpensive bookbinding/ repair course).


What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

Oh dear. This is embarrassing. This year, my reading's gone down the drain. Apart from slush-pile manuscripts, or novels I've edited, I've read numerous books and extracts, online pages and seventeenth century court extracts, all for the sake of research for my book, but published novels? Not a chance. And I'm desperate to read a good novel, one that I can lose myself in. If ever I have any free time, I dive straight into writing. That's all I've had time for. So frustrating. And every time I see that common expression, that writers should read, and read a lot, a wave of guilt washes through me, and yearning. But that doesn't give me more time.


What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?

Hector and the search for happiness with Simon Pegg - so unexpectedly moving, in so many ways.

What is your favourite book or series of all time?

I have lots of books and series I've loved, but there is a way I know the series I'm about to name is my favourite. When I was a teenager, I realised just how many books there were in the world, and was amazed when any person said they'd read a book several times. I wondered, how can a person spend time re-reading the same book, when there are just so many? Really. There's simply not time enough in one lifetime to read all the great books already written, let alone to duplicate reading a single one.

And then I read David Edding's two linked series - The Bellgariad and The Mallorean - five books in each, plus a couple of 'extra' books.

I read them all. I was hooked, absorbed. I adored the characterisation and fell for the story - better than Lord of the Rings, I thought - and was both bereft and impressed when I finished.

Then, a few years later, I hadn't forgotten that total absorption into the story. I've read lots of books and series that I've got into before, but this immersion was different, compelling in a way I'd never experienced. I couldn't quite believe it was as good as I remembered it, as I was telling people it was. So, I picked up the first book again, and was sucked right back in...I read the whole two series a second time.

A few years ago, I lent the first set to one of my kids' friend, and they never gave it back. Last Christmas, another of the kids' friends bought me that same set, knowing how I missed it. I will read it again, if for no other reason than to see how great characterisation is written.


Who is your favourite author?

I think this is a trick question. Is this a trick question? When there are so many amazing authors, how do you define 'favourite'? Hmmmm....

Ok, I've just looked at my bulging, overflowing bookshelves, and spotted a heck of a lot of Terry Pratchett books, so I'm going to go with him. He's funny and gives me a break from this world. I was so sad when he died. We have lost a great writer, and an amazing person. We were lucky to have him.


What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?

Well, there's not so much of the year left. As well as my efforts to get The Popish Midwife 'out there', I want to finish editing the first book of my magical realism series, Sole Possession.

But I have writing aspirations too. Whilst I was researching Elizabeth Cellier, I came across other seventeenth century midwives and writers I want to tell the story of, so intend to continue researching the first of these. I might even have a stint of NaNoWriMo, because I'm missing actually writing and creating something new.

Editing is my favourite, but there's nothing like telling a new story, and that need has to be filled too...


Where else can we find you online?

From the Script Alchemy sidebar: 'My stuff scattered around web'


Consider yourselves tagged (first round):

Tim Savage [Tim's confessions]
Jette Harris [Jette's confessions]
Kevin Ansbro [Kevin's confessions]
Rebecca Sky [Rebecca's confessions]
Kathryn Jane AKA RWAKissOfDeath  (founder of #1linewed )

I further tag (don't think, because I haven't named you yet, I'm not going to tag you! :-D ) :
Paul Scales [Paul's confessions]
Nessa Bell
L. M. Bryski  [Lisa's confessions]
Fran Hennessey
Tarquin Carlin [Tarquin's confessions]
Andrea Zuvich [Andrea's confessions]
Erin Wiggins [Erin's confessions]
Stephanie [Stephanie's confessions]
Melissa Crochet [Melissa's confessions
Lexi Miles [Lexi's confessions]

(Far from finished...more to come...) 

Tagees: To make finding the questions easier, here they are:

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?
What genre do you write?
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?
What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?
What’s the best part about writing?
What’s the worst part about writing?
What’s the name of your favourite character and why?
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
Did you go to college for writing?
What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
What advice would you give to another writer?
What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
What is your favourite book or series of all time?
Who is your favourite author?
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
Where else can we find you online?

12 comments:

  1. I knew your confessions would make a great read. Little House on the Prairie & Clarabelle the Goat! Interesting to hear from someone who balances family and writing and still makes time for what they love.

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    1. This is me - Madeleine. For some reason I've come up as unknown :)

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    2. Thanks Madeleine. Yes, sometimes it's not easy balancing work, children (doesn't matter how grown up they are, somehow you're still at their beck n call :-D)
      As to the rest, I never told you about Little House on the Prairie & Clarabelle the Goat...that stops here, right? Lol

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  2. Extremely informative and hugely entertaining, Annelisa!
    How do you even manage to cram so much into each day? You are a multi-tasking ninja! Do you ever stop to eat?
    I loved rummaging through your Q & As (no euphemism intended), and I'm so looking forward to reading The Popish Midwife, once it's released.
    I also didn't realise that you share my fondness for magical realism, an agreeable trait, methinks.
    Annelisa, you rock!

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    1. Thank you, Kevin :-)
      Yes, though I grew up on Sci-Fi (you would not believe the old-style SF books I devoured throughout my teenage years and into my twenties! lol) magical realism was my first love in writing was Sole Possession, which I'm mid-edit. And I found I loved the weaving of the extraordinary into the ordinary.
      Thanks very much for all your support re The Popish Midwife. I think I'm going to be hanging on until Christmas waiting for a reply for that one. That was a story I had to tell, not only because of what an excellent character Elizabeth Cellier was, but because I (and some others I know) totally empathised with her and her dealings with Thomas Dangerfield...).
      Still waiting to see your answers, Kevin. Still waiting. I particularly wanted you to write them, because you would never write so much about yourself otherwise! :-)

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    2. When am I going to be able to rummage around your Q&As? :-D

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  3. Beautiful read Annelisa, thank you so much for sharing. Clarabelle the Goat sounds awesome, I doubt it was as dreadful as you think. You juggle so much throughout the day, a proper superwoman. I think it's brilliant and amazing you decided to follow your dreams and pursue a writing career so many people stop because of fear (and I know because I used to be one of them). :D

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    1. Thank you, Aura
      Yes, I do believe fear (as well as lack of time) was the biggest barrier I had to break through. It was mostly fear that I wouldn't be good enough, and that people would not even bother to read anything I wrote. I think that's why I tried to make it perfect as I wrote initially. Everything changed when I realised that you could write and re-write to your heart's content before anyone ever saw your story. It didn't have to be perfect, or even good. I spent a long time editing The Popish Midwife. In fact, apart from the actual research, the editing took the most time. I know some that quickly whisk through to make their changes...simple read-throughs...but that's where I buried myself for the last year, getting it right :-)
      When I was thinking about Clarabelle the other day, I tried to remember if I kept it. I'm pretty sure I didn't think it was good enough to keep, and threw it promptly away when I realised. I think it was as bad as I remember it :-D
      Thank you so much for taking time to read and comment, Aura. I really appreciate it! :-)

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  4. Right back atcha, Annelisa!
    http://extemporalia.blogspot.com/2015/10/confessions-of-writer-tag-2015.html

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  5. Really enjoyed your 'Confessions', Tim. So much I still don't know about you. Love that you got your dad to trade in his old electronics so you could get a typewriter. And, from my own experience, I know what a great letter-writer you are. I look forward to the day we can actually meet up! :-)

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  6. Oh, this looks so neat! I hope someone tags me to do this (hint hint, in case anyone can't think of a person to tag). ;) :P

    -K.M. Guerin

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    1. Oh my goodness, I thought you'd already been tagged! You are now officially tagged (I'll come find you on Twitter and do it officially! :-) )

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