Why I Write: Rebecca Perry

If I’m honest, the question of why I write is one I tend to avoid thinking about, probably because I’m worried that the answer is just vanity or self-indulgence. I have written poetry for as long as I can remember, so it’s always been a part of how I navigate my experience of the world, and I’ve rarely given it much more consideration than why it is I like potato so much. I also used to write prose as a child, until I realised that I had neither that particular skill nor the attention span for it. But I suppose why I continue to write, and why I continue to properly try at it, is a different question altogether.

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Of course we’re all just floundering around trying to make sense of our lives and our time on earth, so I suppose writing is one of the ways I have of facilitating that. I’ve written in the past because I’ve been incredibly sad or heartbroken and the writing lets that breathe a little. I’ve written because I’ve been overwhelmed by more positive feelings: love, excitement, admiration for the stegosaurus. But that all feels very introspective and self-serving to me.

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I hope, much more than that reason, it’s that one thing I get real joy from is the feeling when you read something and it’s like ‘yes!’ or your chest rolls over on itself or you want to cry. Miranda July said recently in an interview that she was reading a Diane Cook story and: ‘I had to put the book down and just sob, and I was thrilled at the same time, thinking: ‘It works! This medium really works!’ So it’s that – something much more intersubjective – wanting to be part of that exchange. If you’re taking something out of the pot you want to put something back in, especially if the pot is something you value so much. We spend our lives trying to connect with one another, and failing or succeeding in that, so when I write a poem it’s a way of saying ‘ . . . anyone else?’

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Sometimes I wonder if I write to give shape to my life, to make the passage of time less alarming, to convince myself I’m not just a person who floats along, going swimming, eating, sleeping and not really liking my job. I think there’s real truth in that. Also, I really enjoy the process of writing; the feeling of something taking shape, and the feeling after you’ve written something you think might be in some way successful. It’s fun, basically.

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I’m tired of male voices taking up a disproportionate amount of our Beauty-Beauty Cover Imagecollective space, of being louder than women’s, of being taken more seriously. Parity is a real driving force for me, though I am conscious of the fact that I write from a position of considerable privilege. I have a poem in the book called ‘Poem in which the girl has no door on her mouth’, which is a direct response primarily to Anne Carson’s essay ‘The Gender of Sound’ and also to Mary Beard’s LRB lecture ‘The Public Voice of Women’. Both pieces delineate the pervasive and constant examples (mostly in western literature) of women being told to shut up, women being shamed for the noises they make, starting with Telemachus telling his mother, Penelope, in The Odyssey, ‘Mother . . . go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff . . . speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.’ The writing of that poem was driven by a very particular purpose, in a way that a lot of my writing isn’t, and it was exciting to me to be, in my own way, making a miniscule contribution to evening out the power in the household.

 

Rebecca Perry is the author of two poetry publications: Beauty/Beauty from Bloodaxe Books, and a pamphlet, little armoured, published by Seren. Find her on Twitter.

QuickFic 06/02/12: The Winner

Well. Wasn’t that fun?

As you’ll recall, this was this week’s prompt:

qf10blog

 

We asked you, as we always do, to write us a story about it in 250 words or less. We fully expected at least half of those to be Potter-ish. That did not happen. Instead, you went full-out inspired-to-the-max and came up with all kinds of things.

But we had to choose a winner so we could give them all of the books, and so choose a winner we did.

RUNNER-UP: Liam Hogan

WAKE

It was plainly ridiculous. The result of watching too many sci-fi horror films too late at night. I should know; I was the one who’d been showing them to him.

“For starters, a house is not alive.” I told him.

He looked at me from under that daft fringe. “Even old ones? Even… Granddad’s house?”

I reddened, but refused to take the bait. The feelings you get as a kid are no basis for rational argument.

“They’re not alive, they can’t sustain life – “

“People live in them…”

“ – and even if they could, what sort of creature would burst out of a second story roof?”

“That,” he said, with a half grimace, “is what’s worrying me.”

I shook my head, an exaggerated expression I’d seen Mum do to much greater effect. “Come on, quit dragging your heels.”

The memory of the old house, its roof burst open, lingered even after it was out of sight. We walked in silence, until Tommy clutched my arm and pointed through a chain-link fence opposite our destination.

A digger stood at a jaunty angle halfway up a pile of bricks. In the low sun, it gleamed black rather than yellow, the swoop of its outstretched arm loomed over us, poised to strike.

I nodded in relief. This was safe, this was known.

I took a deep breath and straightened the sombre tie around his neck as we mounted the wreathed steps and rang the bell of our Granddad’s house for the very last time.

 

WINNER: Sharon Telfer

Renovation

“Sorry, hard hats on, please.”

Their entrance had disturbed the air. Dust motes spiralled, a double helix in the shafts of sun. 

“It’s actually much more structurally sound than it looks. But got to keep the Health and Safety chaps happy…”

She had expected damp and mustiness. Instead, warmth swaddled her. She thought she could smell baking bread.

“…once one of the most important houses in town… Oh, you’ve seen the Pevsner entry? That fireplace, of course. Magnificent.” 

The leaded lights scattered the floor with diamonds. At the edge of her eye she saw something flicker, but when she turned her head, it had gone.

“Yes, we understand the council will be very sympathetic. All sorts of grants available…”

At each tread the wood gave a little, then rocked gently back. Nothing in the house was still.

“Do mind the stairs. The floors have all been treated but it’s still very uneven!” 

There were wings around her head, a beating of wings up into the sun. She felt as light as air.

“The pigeons have made themselves at home, I’m afraid. Soon sorted, though, once the roof’s done…”

A down feather settled at her feet. Deep inside, she sensed something shift.

“I say, steady there… All right? As I said, the floors… All part of the charm…”

She would take the test when they got home but already she knew. Time opened up before her.

 

Congratulations, Liam and Sharon!

And thanks for all the brilliant entries. We’ll be back at ten to ten next Friday with a brand new prompt. Happy weekends, all.

If writing competitions are your bag and you can’t wait until next Friday, why not check out our Wednesday writing exercise? There’s no prize except productivity – but we’d still love to see what you come up with. 

QuickFic 06/02/15

Good morning, QuickFic-ers! It’s 9:50am, which means a brand-new writing prompt just for you.

BUT FIRST! A brief reminder of how this thing works:

At ten to ten every Friday morning, we give you a prompt. You write up to 250 words of fiction about that prompt, give it a title, and send them to us at academy@faber.co.uk by 2.50pm.

At 3.30pm, we announce a winner, and the winner wins a stack of wonderful books. You can see a picture of those at the bottom of the page.

Anyway. Let’s get going, shall we? This week’s prompt is THIS:

qf10blog

Oooh.

And those books that the winner will win? T’is these:

qf10_bookspic_799

 

L-R: The New York Trilogy, Open City, After I’m Gone, Hidden Symptoms, The Hard Problem

See you back here at 3.30!

If it’s writing competitions you’re after, we do this every Friday. We also give you a new writing exercise each Wednesday, although all you win for those is the joy of a page full of words. And what better prize than words??

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Only Children Weep

WednesdayWritingExercise_carousel_iconYesterday, the news broke that William Heinemann are to publish Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set A Watchman, over fifty years after the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird.

The novel follows a grown-up Scout as she returns to Maycomb, and in a statement, Lee explains that she actually wrote this book first. On reading it, her editors persuaded her to explore the possibility of a young Scout as narrator, and To Kill A Mockingbird was born.

With that in mind, we have a couple of exercises for you.

 

If you have a work-in-progress

Take the main character and write 500 words from their POV at an entirely different age.

So if you’ve a child narrator, write about them as an adult – what do they think when they look back on the events of your novel? How has it changed them, and where are they now?

And if you’re writing an adult main character, take them back to childhood. What is their life like; how do they see the world? Where do they imagine they’ll be in twenty years time?

If you don’t have a manuscript on the go

Find your favourite novel and choose a key character. Write 500 words from their POV twenty years earlier than the events of the novel or twenty years later.

Where are they now? What are they like? When they look back or forward, what do they see?

 

On completing this exercise, what do you learn about your character and their story? Has it made you realise that certain events or characters are more or less significant than you originally thought?

Check back each Wednesday for more creative writing exercises. And for a writing prompt with a prize, have you played QuickFic of a Friday? Do – we’d love to see you. 

Deadline Day

Deadline Day | Faber Academy writing courses

Footballers rolling around on the floor like edited sentences.

Have you noticed a certain airborne charge? A certain franticity? A wibbliness of spirit in your colleagues & loved ones? Well, don’t panic. It’s just Deadline Day. And we all know what that means.

In Arsenal Town, and in the poachers’ huts of Queens Park and all through the City of Manchester United, men and women are perusing their manuscripts, editing a novel, looking for dead lines.


Dead lines? What dead lines?
My every idea is silver snowflake.

This is not the case. Every writer, however experienced, writes a dead line or two on occasion. Maybe you were tired. Maybe you listened to Capital FM in the shower, and the whining, repetitive, super-funky cadences of a pop song had caught their burrs on your brain-fur, causing you to pack a single paragraph with 12 five-word sentences. Maybe you couldn’t be arsed. Maybe you just wrote any old guff in the gap. “I’ll go back,” you said. Maybe you never went back.

Dead lines exist. Luckily, so does Deadline Day.


Why do they need to go?
Readers will forgive me my sins.

Deadline Day is about going back through your work and singing it to yourself – does the tune hold? Or does it burp sometimes? If your manuscript burps, you may have a dead line. What’s more, if it burps for you, it will surely burp for your reader, and there is nothing more likely to throw a friendly reader out of the world of your creation than a burp in the ear. You might be happy to burp in your own ear, but you should not burp in the ear of your reader. It’s impolite. Stop it.


But how? How can I ever be rid of them?
Dead lines haunt the living.

Sometimes it can feel like every sentence is a playing card in a tremulous house – one fat-fingered intervention and it’ll all come tumbling down. But don’t panic. Your #DeadlineDay brain is the same brain as the brain that wrote the dead line. Nothing has changed about these words just because they are now on the page. You just made a mistake before, is all. Plus, lines die all the time! That thing about the axolotl you thought was really resonant? It’s not! It’s guff! Get rid of it! No worries! If you see a dead line, get rid of it right now. Because you’re a better writer now than when you started – and you’ll be betterer again tomorrow.

Why I Write banner | Faber Academy writing courses

Why I Write: Joanna Cannon

I called them my Kodak Moments.

The snapshots of my day as a doctor, the patients who managed to creep across the brick wall which medical school had instructed us to build, between our profession and our emotions. The desperate, the alone. The children who would never know a future, the elderly who struggled to search for a past. One day, I stood by the bedside of a woman with metastatic breast cancer, a woman whose birth date was just a few days from my own. We had grown up with the same posters on our walls, we knew the lyrics to the same songs. I watched her for so long, searching for the difference between us, because I knew that if I couldn’t find it, I would never be able to turn away.

These Kodak Moments took over my life. I would pull into my drive at the end of a shift, and not remember how I got there, and I would lie in the dark each night, trying to make sense of what I’d seen that day. I decided I must be too absorbent for medicine, and if I didn’t find a way of dealing with these moments, perhaps I really wasn’t suited to this job after all.

So, I decided to do what I had always done, since I was very small, and I started to write about how I felt. Of course, I didn’t write about the patients themselves. Instead, I wrote about my reactions to the situations in which I found myself. I tried to make sense of them.

When I was a child, I lived for library day. I spent all my time with Meg and Mowgli and Aslan (some of my best friends lived within the pages of a book), because they allowed me to explore a very confusing world, without ever leaving the safety of my own chair. I think of writing in a similar way. I think, at least for me, this is what writing (and reading) is all about. It’s a way of understanding, a way of choosing a new perspective. Without writing, I know I would struggle to process everything around me, and finding the words to explain my experiences leaves me free to absorb a little more of the world.

As a teenager, I watched an Alan Bennett series on BBC1 called Talking Heads, and it felt as though someone had opened a door into another room. For the first time, it made me appreciate the power of words. The power to move, distract, and entertain. The power to shift a viewpoint. The power to explain. I decided then that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to learn how to harness the power of words, and use them to make the world an easier place to understand.

For me, I think life will always require more than a little explaining, and as long as I need those explanations, I will continue to write.

Joanna Cannon graduated from Leicester Medical School and worked as a hospital doctor, before specialising in psychiatry. She was born and raised in the Peak District, where she continues to live with her family and her dog. THE PROBLEM WITH GOATS AND SHEEP is her first novel, and will be published by Borough Press (HarperCollins) in Spring 2016. Say hi to her on Twitter.

Jo was also a student on one of our online novel-writing courses. Writing a Novel Online: The First 15,000 is open for applications now.