Tag Archives: publishing

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.

Why I Write: Morgan McCarthy

The short answer is: I don’t know.

Wait! Don’t go away. I haven’t finished. I may not know exactly why I write, but I do have some ideas, and – true to form – I have written them down…

1. Money

Sad and grubby as it is, this has to be acknowledged as a significant spur to my creativity. I may be in the gutter and looking at the stars, but I’m also trying to work out whether my gutter would benefit from faster wi-fi, and whether an open-plan gutter-extension would add value. When it comes to content, I write the books I want to write without – as my readers would no doubt confirm – much consideration for marketability or commercial appeal. But I can’t deny that I daydream sometimes about film adaptations, and not only because I want to brainstorm with Meryl Streep over coffee.

And yet! There was a time when I didn’t have to think about when my next pay-check was coming from – because I already knew: £1 a week, plus 25p sweetie allowance. And back when I was a child, I was at my most prolific. I wrote incessantly, churning out page after page of stories about aliens and time-travel, princesses and monsters, even a (poorly researched) epic about the Aztecs. I didn’t get any money for this, and I certainly didn’t have any readers. One teacher admitted he had no idea how to begin to mark one of my 150-page efforts and gave me 10/10 and a gold star purely on the basis of weight. No – something other than cash compelled me.

2. Praise

This is also, undeniably, one of my motivators. I am an inveterate teacher’s pet (10/10 is still 10/10, after all) and while I no longer crave the approval of my parents and my old English teacher Mr Pepperpot*, this longing has transferred itself onto readers, reviewers, organisations. My wildest dreams basically boil down to a need for the Booker committee to pat me on the head and tell me I’ve done a great job. A gold star wouldn’t go amiss, either.

3. To change the world

Um, nope.

4. Because it’s fun

This is only partly true. I had the most fun writing when I was eight, when it was all about volume and quality control was just a twinkle in my future editor’s eye. As an adult I am a perfectionist, a procrastinator and a self-doubter, and as a consequence, writing can frequently be a fairly un-fun process.

5. Because not many other jobs will let me work in pyjamas

Now, this is undoubtedly a factor.

isbn9781472205810-detailOkay, it’s becoming apparent that I’m no closer to understanding why I write, and quite frankly this analysis of my motivations isn’t making me look great. The truth is, none of these reasons come close to explaining it. It’s more that I find that there are characters I long to write about, and situations I long to explore. I am passionate about capturing the feel of a place that exists only in my head; trying to express an imagined atmosphere, even when I’m not sure it’s even possible. If the prospect of riches and admiration was taken away, I’d still do it.

And I don’t really know what that’s about.
*names have been changed

 

Morgan McCarthy

Morgan McCarthy is the author of The Other Half of Me, The Outline of Love and Strange Girls and Ordinary Women. Say hi to her on Twitter.

The Doubtful Novelist

S1152_Imageo. A new year dawns, and with it, a million resolutions. Write more. Read more. Do better at being ‘out there’. It’s a time of hope and aspiration, and a time, for a group of people to which I belong, of abject terror.

A year in which you have a book published is undoubtedly one of the most exciting there can be. For me, it’s my second: a novel, Lay Me Down, published by Vintage in February. I have loved and loathed this book during the three years it’s taken to bring it to print; it’s taken me to dark places and to extremely happy ones, through the writing, the re-writing and the major, knock-it-down-and-start-again re-writing. I was unspeakably thrilled when Vintage offered a contract for it back at the end of 2013. And now we have the cover and the proofs and, just this week, the finished copies. It’ll soon be out there in the world, this thing I did.

Which is, frankly, terrifying. It’s wonderful, of course, but it’s also scary. There’s the joy and the pride and the disbelief that swell through you when you first hold a copy of the novel. And then there are the doubts and the questions and the nagging worry that nobody is going to like this except me.

20130116_133223(2)Self-doubt is natural, especially in a career as isolated and introspective as writing. For so many stages of the process, it’s just you and the words, and it’s all too easy for those little inner voices to start chipping away at your confidence. You start to second-guess everything; you walk – and trip over – the oh-so-fine line between good self-editing and unhelpful self-bullying on a daily basis.

This time of year is one of the worst for The Doubts, with social media churning out list upon list of books to look out for in 2015. Author Claire King rightly explains here how unnecessarily stressful it can be – especially for a debut novelist – to scan those and not find your book listed. And, let’s be honest – there’s always some handy stick-shaped internet fodder you can find to beat your poor old ego with. The six-figure advances you read about when you’re still halfway through a manuscript or a handful of rejections down. The two-books-a-year author who’s also writing films and plays and working full-time. Always something or someone we can hold up and say I’m not as good as that. We can’t help ourselves; we let The Doubts in.

This time round, I’ve promised myself I won’t get hung up on the reviews or the Goodreads and Amazon ratings. I’ve warned myself not to take it personally if someone doesn’t like the book; that though the book feels like a part of me, it is, to the rest of the world, a product.

It doesn’t work. The book is a part of me, a part which has been difficult and wonderful to wrangle into words on the page. I’m scared to share it but I’m also excited too – I can’t wait for the characters with whom I’ve spent the last three years to make their first steps into someone else’s imagination.  I’m proud of it, and writing it has been a joy, a torment and a learning curve.

And I’ve realised that last part is the most important. I remind myself that the review for my first book which meant most to me was a two star one. In it, the reviewer said that it ‘had potential’ but that in the end nothing was ‘particularly engaging’. They were very careful to clear up any confusion that they might be suggesting I was on drugs, and they ended with this line: ‘I look forward to her next book and hope that she stretches herself more’.

I hope that I have, too. And I’m going to keep on trying, with the next book and the next, pushing The Doubts into the dusty little corner where they belong. Because, really, the only thing we have any control over is whether we believe our work is the best it can be. I do feel that way about Lay Me Down, and I’m going to spend 2015 doing my utmost to make it true of Book 3 as well.

 

 Nicci Cloke

Lay Me Down
Nicci Cloke is an author, procrastinator and literary salon organiser. She’s also Sales and Marketing Assistant at Faber Academy. Say hi to her on Twitter.

Lay Me Down is published on February 19th. 

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Why I Write: David Sanger

When speaking about writing, I find that I get embarrassed; worrying with each word that I’m treading in clichés. So I’ll steal from someone else. One of my favourite directors, Michael Powell, once said, ‘I am the teller of the tale, not the creator of the story.’ I like to think he was talking about the pre-existing wonder of life that he drew into his films. He filmed otherworldly romances and scenes of fantasy, but each time he made them from the basic components of life. Things we all have at our disposal in our memories and experiences.

I write because I feel there’s a tale to be told. I feel an excitement from something, be it an event or a character, that needs to be put down. When I started writing what will be my first novel, I didn’t know when or where it would be set. It just started as an image of a girl sat with her uncle, looking out over a canyon. The story grew from there and other characters joined the fray and then finally, and perhaps unconventionally, it gained a setting and a time.

Working in publishing only made me want to write more. At Faber I was lucky enough to meet authors who I had read and admired hugely; even written my dissertation on. It wasn’t that they raved about writing or how it was the best job in the world. It was the worlds they created. The tales they told. It was equally intimidating and inspiring, which is perhaps why I only began writing when I left.

I started writing properly when I lived in Germany. I was holed up (voluntarily) in a spare room, looking out on the woods. As it approached winter, the never-ending German snow started. Despite sounding like the start of The Shining, it was perfect. I would wake up and return to New Georgetown, where the book takes place. I felt like (and here comes one of those clichés) I was returning to a place I belonged. I loved walking into town to witness what the characters were doing. I occasionally went for a cold run to ward off scurvy and in Babelsberg Park there were long stretches of snowy paths before these strange castle-like buildings perched on the hills. Soon, the story had a woods and an ominous building, and the book had an ending.

When I started writing I would find any excuse to give up. I would blame the computer or having to do the washing or the shopping. A month later, I would struggle to stop. Subject matter swelled my brain. It was true hunger and something that hasn’t left me since. There are days when I don’t fancy it, but writing is the only thing that can get me to the library for two hours after a long day at work.

As much as I wrote about a different part of the world in a different time, a lot of the tale I told came from my own life. When I began writing this book, a decent chunk of what I went through at the time found a home in it. People left my life as well as came into it, or rather I left and came into theirs. It’s a tribute to those people and things said or unsaid; both as potent as one another. At one point in the book, my main character stands atop a hill and asks himself, ‘What now?’ I had asked myself that plenty and still do. I guess without sending him down first, I wouldn’t have been able to follow.

Writing, like everything, comes in good and bad swells, but there’s not a better job in the world. Stories exist everywhere and have been told countless times. I write to tell a tale and hope people enjoy listening to it.

In a film of Michael Powell’s – The Red Shoes (my favourite) – Lermontov asks ballet dancer Victoria Page why she dances. ‘Why do you want to live?’ she responds. Surprised, Lermontov muses, ‘Well I don’t know exactly why, but I must.’ ‘That’s my answer too,’ replies Page. And so it goes with writing.

David Sanger

David Sanger is a children’s book publicist who lives and writes in London. Rights to his debut novel has just been sold to a major UK publisher. Say hi to him on Twitter.