Sunday, 25 April 2010

the week in pictures

because this week has sort of been about pictures.

I like sitting with my notebook and a biro and drawing a shape. Sometimes it stays a shape, sometimes it becomes a drawing, often words come and land around the shape.

The process is a bit like freewriting, you don't know what's going to come, and you have to get over the initial feeling of 'what' to write/draw. I am no artist. Sometimes it's just boxes, rows of boxes, sometimes circles. Triangles. Etc.

But there's something freeing about it, it sort of unclogs me. And I like it when a shape sparks some words. I'd love to write a novel around shapes that are sometimes drawings where words come and land.

I'll share a couple from my notebook this week.

This one started as a square that was being pulled out of shape, but since I realised it looks like head, neck and shoulders, that's what I see. The words came from the 'pulling apart' of the box.

This one started with the long rectangle in the middle, which felt like a door, or a divide of some sort.

I had a birthday this week, my first without my Mum. I don't write about my grief here on the blog, and I don't write Facebook updates about it. I write in my journal, and I talk to people. Maybe it comes through in the fiction I've written since losing her, without me meaning it to. Maybe one day I'll look at every word I've written in the last 4 months and think it is drenched in it. I just didn't think I could say I'd had a birthday, without saying it was without her. It was both happy and sad, every day is.

Most of my friends bought me books, which is awesome. Look how lovely they are. Which should I read first?

One great moment from this week: drinking wine, with this view. It was easy-ish to imagine it was ALL MINE, and not the Earl of Harewood's.

Dyed my hair, used the leftover hair dye to advertise my friends' ace Zombie web series, Zomblogalypse.

New shades

Greek coffee, with homemade biscuit (started out as a birthday cake, evolved into birthday biscuit)

Mmm, might have to go and make a Greek coffee. My boyfriend is half Cypriot, and I was introduced to this kind of coffee by his late father, who drank it all the time. It's amazing - you boil it up in a pan with water and sugar, and serve it in these little cups, a bit like an espresso cup, and it's just so nice. Very strong, very sweet, kind of gravelly, but serious and full on and no-messin.

Monday, 19 April 2010

How you write - Part 7 - Jenn Ashworth

I'm really happy to be hosting a guest post from Jenn Ashworth, whose debut novel A Kind of Intimacy is sitting next to my bed waiting for me to finish the remaining 60 pages (I just had to half close my eyes to check how many pages are in it - just in case I saw anything that would give away the ending). It's a brilliantly drawn story of a slightly unhinged and deluded 28 year old woman existing on the edge of society, getting things wrong, being weird, and being unloved. I recommend it fully, heartily, and all other ways people recommend things.

Here's Jenn to tell us how she writes.

How I write has changed, and probably will carry on changing. My first novel – a horrible attempt my best friend retains a copy of merely to blackmail me with – was ‘composed’ (that’s probably too strong a word for it) on an old typewriter I bought from The Children’s Society charity shop in Chorley, Lancashire when I was sixteen. A lost balloon-novel was typed on a laptop, in bed, at night when I was supposed to be studying English Lit. It was stolen, which is a story I quite like telling at readings. I’m not as sad about it as I used to be.

A Kind of Intimacy, I typed onto an un-stealable desk-top computer, wearing the letters off a keyboard and keeping one foot on the bouncing chair my new little girl sat, neglected, in. Cold Light, the one I’ve just finished, was written in long-hand in a set of A4 pads, then typed up, then half-deleted and rewritten six times on the same desk-top computer. A new Cherry Keyboard, and made of sterner stuff because the letters are intact - or maybe my hands are less clammy these days.

And the next one? I’ve no idea. I’ve a Lamy fountain pen with a medium nib, and people buy me bottles of ink for Christmas (Lamy green and Diamine Black Cherry are my favourites, although a friend tells me only nutters write in real green ink) and I usually save it for thank you cards and letters, but I think the pen’s up to the challenge of a novel.

I used to use the bold nib, but my loopy, lumpy handwriting was illegible, and that pen was stolen when I worked in the prison – the prisoners like real ink and metal nibs and I like the idea of my Christmas Lamy pen being used to make a tattoo. Maybe I’ll use Lamy the second to write my third novel, except when I cry or spill my tea, the ink moves and the page looks more like a chromatography experiment than a novel in the making. The impermanence of real ink is worrying – I want my books to be like those tattoos and I write my journals in biro.

It’s my journals I want to tell you about. My journals – a stack of which you’ll see in the picture – a record I’ve been keeping since I was thirteen, which used to be half my life but this year, is slightly less than that. The older I get, the smaller the percentage of my life that is unrecorded gets. I like that.

I write about boring things. The things my daughter does. My rants and irritations. I unload. Sometimes I call it the grudge book. I write about my secrets and most of all I write about my writing. I expect it’s very boring and it would be nice to have it burned just before I shuffle off, but I can’t mean that, because if the fountain pen happens to be near me when I take up my journal for the evening’s recording and unloading session (that last phrase sounds much ruder than I mean it to) I always swap it for a biro. I’m unreliable.

Of course I want it to last forever. It’s why I don’t type it up, I want these words, these special secret words that will never be read aloud, never be published, never read by anyone other than me, to exist in the real world. I want to feel the impression of my hand on the paper – see the tea and tear stains, and wonder what was written on that page I tore out of the book.

The books used to be cheap ones - the paper yellow already because I was little and I was buying them out of my pocket money. I write on Moleskines now because I like the binding and the covers and I’m a pretentious twat, and Rhodias because I like the orange and the squares but wish they were a bit more substantial looking.

Jenn Ashworth writes for fun, and for a living. Her books aren’t crime novels, but novels with crimes in them. And Fat Admirers. And glow in the dark fish. And out of hand news readers. And the Crystal Maze. And sticks of rock and shower curtains with penguins on them.

She’s just finished her second novel, Cold Light and her first, A Kind of Intimacy was published last year with Arcadia. She also writes short stories – strange ones about people being disappointed, or shocked, or trying to explain themselves and not doing a very good job of it. She’s got ambitions to write a real detective novel and maybe a radio play, but right now she’s working on Too Much Information – a live lit show she’s co-starring in with the poet Jo Bell.

When she’s not writing books, she’s blogging – a little bit ago her blog won a prize at the Manchester Literature Festival. And when she’s not doing that she’s writing in her journal, window-shopping for just the right kind of teal coloured ink, or irritating her family, who she lives with in Preston, Lancashire.

Friday, 16 April 2010

strapped myself to my desk


In a bid to curb my time-wasting-online habit I set myself a simple challenge: to sit at my desk, with the laptop on, plugged into the internet, and not use it for an hour (not use the internet, I mean). I opened up a word file of a story I've been enjoying tapping out and I tapped out and tapped about for a full hour, and when I wasn't tapping the keys I was writing out ideas in my notebook that was by my side.

Sometimes I have to really remind myself that writers should actually WRITE.

It worked, though I did have an urge to fact-check something, and thought of several facebook status updates that could make me sound cool/interesting, and decided I wanted to read all the book reviews of a book I read a few months ago right now. I didn't.

Maybe short concentrated bursts like that work for me. Lately, when I've set time aside to write, I haven't been that focused even though I've really wanted to be. Stupid really, the way I can actively NOT do the thing I really want to do.

I wrote 850 words, and drafted out a couple of ideas that could become pieces of writing at some point. Felt good, productive, useful.

Other stuff
Found this great place for flash fiction: Spilt Milk Magazine I like what they say they in their submissions guidelines:

We like people who can do unusual and arresting things with words, and who can do it well. We are swayed by tone more than content, and if you mesh the subtle and surreal into one seamless wonder, we’d love for you to send us a little something.

We do not like randomness for its own sake. We do not like self-consciously witty anecdotes, forced quirkiness, emotional outbursts, exclamation marks, or anything which smacks of trying-too-hard. We are less keen on things that rhyme, and squirm at the sight of words dotted around a page. Our eyes are lazy.

That said, we also like to be surprised by old things done well, or new things done with old things, so if you have written something that makes you feel oddly proud and excited, it’s always worth hitting us with something chancy.

I've sent something, so fingers are crossed. Have a read of Issue 2, which you can get here. I especially enjoyed this flash from Jane Roberts, Skinplicity/Skinplex.

I'm tres happy to be hosting a great post from Jenn Ashworth on Monday as part of my 'How you write' series. I'm halfway through Jenn's novel, A Kind of Intimacy, and it's so good.

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

I didn't write this

but I wish I had.

66 words long, something beautiful about it.

Lilliput by Chris Taylor.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

keeping a diary

is the title of my first non-fiction piece for the latest Tomlit Quarterly and you can read it here (Vol.2 No.2, page 32). It's residing alongside some great stories and artwork too.

It's quite a personal bit of writing about my experiences of keeping a diary as I grew up, with a few embarassing quotes thrown in.

Would love you to take a look.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

things in my "office" that make me happy

well it's more like corner of our bedroom, but one day, one day, I shalt have a room of mine own.

Nik did this a while ago, and in the hope of it making me feel like I'm in the pages of Hello Magazine I'm doing the same.

So, we begin with
My Shelves
(my corner is mainly made up of these shelves and a desk)

Let's zoom in to an item or two
such as This David Lynch Quote
(which I like because I think it applies to writing as well as film making)

Hey! What's this?
A Corner Of A Shelf In My Corner Which Houses The Books And Magazines I've Been Published in
(this is good for morale)

Hang on! This isn't in your corner!
Chaise Longue
(in the living room and not in my corner, but it's the most writerly thing I own, except maybe a pen)

Wine And Crisps
(not always there but by god the day's a good un when they are)

Monday, 5 April 2010

How you write - Part 7 - Sophie Playle

(I've cut the 'Tell me' at the beginning of the series title - it felt a bit laboured. This may change again as it still doesn't quite feel right but we'll see.)

I'm always excited to read how each writer has responded to my questions, and to see the patterns and differences in the way we work. Here's Sophie Playle with her piece, quite out of sync with the majority of the writers we've featured so far. Enjoy.

I wish I was one of those writers who fill beautiful notebooks, have stacks of them lining the shelves and spilling over the desk, waiting to be mined for rare gems of creativity. But I’m not. I love beautiful notebooks. I collect beautiful notebooks. But I can barely bring myself to taint them with my scribbles.

I tried buying cheap notebooks, but I couldn’t even fill those. My writing hand moves ten times slower than my typing hand. It can’t keep up with my brain. And my hand gets cramped and I have horrible flash-backs of GCSE exams.

I like to type. I like the feel and tap of the keys.

My hands can fly over the keyboard. I can type almost as fast as I can think. It is through this electronic instrument that my brain can engage most smoothly with my writing. I don’t have to think about typing. It is the path of least resistance.

I like how non-committal the screen is. I can write, delete, edit, move bits around, create various versions of stories easily with copy/paste/delete/type. It’s so versatile.

And it has spell check.

Occasionally I write down the odd thing into a notebook, if I can’t get to my laptop. But it is usually just a little reminder to myself, so that when I get to my laptop I don’t draw a blank at that ‘great’ idea I had on the train.

My brain is most creative when I’m in the bath. Obviously, that’s a problem, because I can’t use my laptop in the bath without risk of a) ruining my laptop and b) death. So I usually jump out of the bath, re-energised, and pop open a Word document while half sitting/lying in my bed and undoubtedly mishapening my spine even more than it already is.

For the most part, I need silence when I write, especially when re-writing. I need to hear my thoughts. But as of late, I’ve been listening to The Proposition soundtrack (by Nick Cave – proper good minimalistic stuff). I usually listen to movie soundtracks. It is probably the lack of vocals and the strong sense of atmosphere that these soundtracks evoke that make them good for me to write to. I sometimes listen to Phillip Glass, who again writes minimalistic music and who has also written for film. The music helps me connect to the creative part of my brain and shut off the critical part while I’m getting down a first draft.

I would love my own writing office. It would free up nearly all the space in my bedroom, as I’d be able to keep my books in there. I’d get a nice desk, a few thick church candles, a bonzi tree, and a good comfy chair (maybe two chairs – one for the desk, one for reading in), and I’d lock myself in and write.

Sophie Playle was born in 1987 in the South East of England, UK. She writes fiction by night, works for a publisher by day, and runs lit-mag 'Inkspill Magazine' in the gaps of time in between. She blogs about all this at:

Friday, 2 April 2010

a quote from my diary

I've written my first piece of non-fiction about diary keeping for the next issue of Tomlit, due out next week.

It's quite personal and reflective, and not an article as such. It was hard-ish to write, mainly because I began by looking over my old diaries - far too easy to get distracted by my teenage dramas and wistful analysing.

I'll give you a taster.

From my diary, 31.12.94 (I was 13):

"When I look back on 1994, it's been ok. The summer was the greatest ever. I learnt quite a lot, but then again, I didn't."