This is meant as a shared workspace and chat room for all those who attended the Fiction: Work in Progress course. Feel free to post comments, work, suggestions, links to great sites or just random thoughts that will help keep the spirit of a very special week alive.
Just wondered how everyone is getting on with their novels – fully expecting no one to reply to be honest but since the website pops up on my wordpress menu it’s too tantalising to ignore.
Happy new year to everyone and all best wishes for the writing. I’ve recently been on a trip to Paris and started a few short stories and sat around looking at stuff to put in the Paris scenes in my novel. Obviously, a bit of Christmas shopping was done and galleries were visited. The Mona Lisa seems to have been moved since my last visit but most people had their back to it taking selfies. The picture with dogs doesn’t seem to be in the same place, Julia, but I found myself looking for other dogs in other pictures in the room. Surprisingly, there was a Jack Russel type dog scrounging beneath the table in the Last Supper which is interesting and pretty typical of dogs. Has any applied to the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme? It looks wonderful. I have to say I’m still inspired by our course. Wasn’t it just brilliant? Anyway, good luck for 2015. I hope someone posts some work here soon. I keep looking but I feel I’m gazing into a mirror. Xx Amanda
Manda suggested that I might put some of my WIP up to read. Here is a short section. As I’m deliberately not working on my WIP at the moment – resting it – I don’t have any specific questions for you – except perhaps about the moving tenses at the beginning. Also it’s not had Jim’s mean pencil treatment yet nor any serious scrutiny on my part. As I read it over now, just before pushing it out to you, I see there is much to be done. Even so, for what it’s worth, here it is. Any comments welcomed.
It is set in Gadir, a place about as far from the centre of civilisation as you could possible imagine, if you’d happened to live in 500 BC that is. Lord Apsan, an important man who represents the Carthaginian Board of Trade in this distant place, is travelling with Crescens, his local secretary, to a famous shrine.
Chapter: The Shrine to Melqart Needs Repair
The Gadir shrine to Melqart, fearsome God of Tyre, was justly famous throughout the world. Sailors and commanders from Macedon to Punt came thousands of dangerous sea miles to pay homage at his sanctuary in the western Ocean. As they emerged, bones juddering, from the treacherous Strait of Calpe, a single glimpse of this granite obelisk was all the reward they required. Lotus vines of solid gold climbed its tapering form and, at the top, pointing towards the sky, shone a slender pyramid. In awe and dread they approached, clutching amulets and votive offerings, muttering thanks that they had survived the voyage. Its feet were set in the glistening sea and, behind, a narrow isthmus connected it to land.
It was along this tiny tract that, in fits and starts, a large litter was making its way to the sanctuary’s back entrance. Carried by four natives, a large slave jogged beside it.
‘Did you let him know we were coming?’
‘Well of course I told him we were coming. Do you think we would have come all this way on the off chance?
‘I was only asking. You’ve been very busy lately.’
’Too true, running backwards and forwards to the beaches while you moon about over your art collection.’
‘Now that really is too much! I get ideas for the factory by so-called ‘mooning about’, as you very well know.’ Lord Apsan’s angular frame is lying, amidst a mountain of cushions, in the back of the litter. He holds a handkerchief to his nose. Crescens sits opposite him on a bench, tunic falling lightly over his thighs.
The litter suddenly jolts to a standstill and a yowl of protest erupts from the native bearers. Apsan is thrown forward, almost to the floor. ‘Oh, by the god’s, can’t you go a bit more carefully Gatit?’ he yells at his body guard outside, recovering. Reaching for the curtains of the conveyance he flicks them open.
Directly below the pallet rivulets of vicious looking liquid are making shallow furrows in the sand; splattered along them, small clumps of human excrement. The bearers legs and tunics are covered with it, as are those of his slave. The jumble of native voices continues to get louder. Crescens sticks his head out.
‘What is it, Gatit?’
‘They’re refusing to go on Mr Crescens. They say they’ve had enough and you’ll have to walk the last little bit.’ Gatit is standing at the head of the litter looking perplexed.
‘Have they lost their senses!’ roars Apsan, Commissioner for Trade to the Carthage Board of Commerce. ‘They are hired to do a job. They should do it!’. He hurls himself backwards onto the cushions, crushes the clothe to his nose and closes his eyes. This place; how can I bear this place any longer?
Crescens gets out of the litter, gingerly picking his way through all obstacles. He speaks softly to Gatit and then to the bearers in Tartus. There is a pause and consultation between them in native language. In a short while Crescens gets back into the litter and it proceeds on its way.
Apsan opens his eyes, pulls a face and throws a mantle over his secretary’s dirty legs. ‘What did you say?’
‘That they could have more money if they got us in to the shrine and back out again.’
‘Oh, is that all! Without a ‘by your leave’ you’ve taken it upon yourself to up the wage bill’ says the Trade Commissioner, looking cross. ‘So much for the budget then!’
‘Well we could have come by water, as I suggested’ replies Crescens in his own sweet way.
Apsan looks even more irritated. ‘It’s hardly worth the effort of getting a vessel ready. By the time we’ve rowed across the bay in a boat we can be here in a litter.’
The litter continues for a distance with only the grunts of the men and the slap of their feet on the ground to break the silence.
‘Why is there so much human waste here?’ asks Apsan abruptly. He sits up and pulls the curtains back on both sides of their vehicle to stare around.
Crescens blows out his cheeks. ‘Because of the village behind us I expect. It’s a pretty poor place at the back of the shrine here. This must be the only place they can go’.
‘Hardly explains the great torrent’ responds Apsan, with a frown on his face. He bobs his head down to look under the curtains. ‘And on the sacred soul of Melqart’s mother look at the state of that building will you!’ He and Crescens now lean out the other side of the litter making it hard for the bearers to run smoothly. The gold leaf on the back of the sacred obelisk is peeling in some places, in others missing altogether.
‘This place is in a terrible state of repair!’
Thank you Sue, for your comments and for reading my draft, early though it is. I am going to take it down now and rework it. I have lots of ideas for a new beginning but will continue to work on the rest of the novel meanwhile. I have just finished reading Shirley Jackson’s ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’. If you haven’t read it, it’s a brilliant suspense novel, blackly funny and short! It has such a great beginning with masses of tension which continues throughout the novel. She also manages to slip in background information sparingly and discreetly.
I’ll keep an eye out for other people’s work.
All the best,
Charlie said, towards the end of Lumb Bank, that though he was itching to get back to his first draft he knew he needed to let it rest for a bit. It was a helpful comment for me because as soon as I returned home I felt that I ought to be up and doing stuff to my first draft, to implement new skills, to justify the fact that I had been on a course, the expense, the time. (What, me? puritanical? How could you say such a thing.) Yet, as it turns out, it’s been impossible to write.
I’ve been up to my usual displacement routines of course. Every last dam stupid bureaucratic chore has been completed, even my tax, and now my desk is clear. Shame about my head.
In the midst of this general restlessness a kind person sent me a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing: a memoir of the craft. As well as a zippy read it offers helpful insights into his methods of writing and, crucially for me, how long you ought to leave a first draft before you start a rewrite. Believe it or not he thinks that you must sit down and write your first draft at the pace of 1,000 words a day, 6 days a week, until it is done. No breaks, no dallying. Under these circumstances he estimates that it could take a beginner six months to complete the first draft. He usually does his books at 2,000 words a day, seven days a week. After that, he suggests, you should leave it completely alone for six weeks, minimum, or until such a time as you hardly recognise it when you get back to it. Return to your normal life, he advises; or write something else until you achieve a critical distance from it. Only then can building the novel continue. He adds that if you then see vast holes in the story, inconsistencies, mistakes, character deficiencies, you are FORBIDDEN to get depressed about it; it is just part of the process of completing it.
For myself I find this advice immensely useful. I need to calm down a bit, change tack, let the work float off for a while without too much fear that it’ll never return.
Well, that’s the theory anyway. Thank you Mr. King.
I don’t know if you’ve seen Toby Litt’s article on 9 Things You Need To Write A Novel
It’s interesting and unusual.
ONE SHORT STORY AND ANOTHER
Tuesday evening saw me with two writing friends at The Tabernacle, Powis Square, Notting Hill for an evening of eating, laughing and listening.
It was the presentation of the VS Pritchett Short Story Award administered by the Royal Society of Literature.
Yours truly had entered 2 stories. At £5 an entry this short story competition is one of the least pricey comps to enter. It is not usual for an competition organiser to ask £20 or more, most memorably, Mslexia who asks £25. Memorable for me since, once again, I entered one of their competitons only to come nowhere at all. This has been a dire season for me since last spring I submitted six stories round about the comps and not a single one was even long-listed.
The award ceremony was late starting, I think because we were waiting for Maggie Drabble to arrive. Ms Drabble was one of the judges, one of the other judges being Tibor Fisher.
AL Kennedy was interviewed by Paula Johnson, the administrator of the prizes and awards at RSL.
I was expecting someone with dark hair as that’s clear from photos of her but not someone so slight. If we clapped too loudly she was in danger of being blown away. She was wearing the kind of fitted pale blue trouser suit that would have been a disaster on anyone not as slim as her. I don’t know why anyone expects a writer to be fascinating to listen to, given that a writer spends all her time locked away, saying little and committing all their thoughts to paper rather than to the public.
AL Kennedy admitted she had taken a holiday once but not having enjoyed it, has not bothered with one since! She didn’t tell us where her ideas came from apart from looking at life, not did she talk about the writing of a story other than to advise not to begin short story until you are clear what the story is about. She claimed that once you knew what the story was about you’d know the beginning. I still believe that you write many beginnings only to delete them once you’ve reached the end but her advice not to start on a story until your ideas are clear was good.
She read a storyof hers which, maybe, would be better read silently. It was a slow, introsepctive story about (I think) a long-married woman re-living her life with her irascible husband.
The winner of the VS Pritchett Award read her story. It was a rambling story which took place over a series of days about two poeple who were both social outcasts. She read it in a dramatic manner, using different voices for the characters, which helped to maintain the interests of her listeners.
The judges were, we were told, impressed with the strength of the voice of the story. Not a hint as to how to win next years’ competition as other judges could well use other criteria.
Nevertheless, I will be entering the 2015 competition. It is one of most appealing.
All round a most enjoyable evening. When I last checked (yesterday) the RSL web site had not been updated but it will give an account of the evening.