Archives for creativity

I agree with… Pat Barker #amwriting #writerslife #writetip

Pat Barker “I do think that sometimes the seed that sets you off on the process of writing a novel can have been around for many years, even decades, before it actually – for some mysterious reason – comes to fruition… I think it’s almost a good sign if an idea has been fermenting for quite a long time in a sort of semi-conscious way. I’ve learnt to distrust the staggeringly brilliant new idea that was triggered by something that happened quite recently. Ha Ha! You need the dog-eared thing that’s been around for a long time, quietly nagging away at you.”  [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 25 2018]  This is so true. It is easy to be carried away by the bright new idea that seems to tap into the zeitgeist, but in my experience these don’t have the legs and can turn out to be superficial. Better nurture the idea that rumbles away in your sub-conscious, allowing it to unfold and multiply, to make connections with other reflections. Barker was talking ahead of the release of her latest novel The Silence of the Girls, a retelling of The Iliad, the story of the Trojan war,
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Categories: On Writing.

I agree with… Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood “The only time I’ve ever been blocked on Twitter was because I was defending creative writing teaching. You cannot teach someone to have talent but what you can do, if you’re a good teacher, is to take the amount of talent each person has and teach them to get the most out of it.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, April 24, 2015] Wood’s day job is senior lecturer in creative writing at Birkbeck University [where I too studied creative writing, though not with Wood]. His defence of creative writing teaching is spot-on in my book. Why is it that many people expect innate ability to just flourish when someone is writing a novel, but not place the same expectations on budding artists or surgeons or round-the-world yachtsmen? “The idea that it’s wrong for people who want to put themselves in a room and get better at something is crazy.” Is it because of the old adage ‘everyone has a book in them’, so writing a book is seen as easy? It’s not. And creative writing classes are littered with students who never finish their manuscripts. The Ecliptic is Wood’s second novel, his first The Bellweather Revivals
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Categories: On Writing.

How Jill Alexander Essbaum writes

“I use a lot of puns and rhyme and wonky meter. When I was writing this book, whenever I sort of hit a wall I stopped trying to think with my head, I tried to think with my ears and tried to figure out how to change the sound and the rhythm [of what I was writing]. You can feel sound as well as hear it. I use that in poetry and I used it in moments in Hausfrau.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, January 9, 2015] Jill Alexander Essbaum is a poet and for her, language and words hold immense power. Her first collection of poetry, Heaven, was published in 2000 and though she has dreamed of writing a novel, until Hausfrau she didn’t know what a novel might be about. I always read my copy aloud, when I’m rewriting. It highlights any judders in the rhythm of the text, repetitions leap out, and it does help me to fine tune each sentence so it flows. Awareness of rhythm is beneficial to all writers, I think. To read more of Jill Essbaum’s work, click here for her website.   See how these other novelists write:- Rose Tremain
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with… Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell ‘How to write while looking after a very young baby: get a sling. Aim for the most supportive, ergonomic one you can find. Strap yourself in. After the mid-morning feed, while the baby is still in a post-milk trance, insert her into the sling with the minimum disturbance possible. Forget anything like clearing away the breakfast, emptying the washing machine, returning calls – even dressing. You won’t be doing anything as rash as answering the door.’ [in an interview ‘How I Write’ with ‘The Guardian’ October 18, 2012] I don’t have the baby so can’t claim that as a distraction from writing, as O’Farrell can, but I totally get the rest of her advice. DO NOT BE DISTRACTED. It’s about being strict with yourself, make the most of every minute you have allocated for writing. Set the alarm on your mobile or use the oven timer.  To read the full article in The Guardian, click here. For more about O’Farrell’s books, click here for her website.   If you agree with Maggie O’Farrell, perhaps you will agree with:- Sarah Waters – putting people into houses is akin to a pressure cooker Joanna Trollope – e-books are leased Simon Sebag Montefiore – it
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Anne Tyler writes

Anne Tyler: “For 20 years sometimes I’ll pass a card and it does nothing for me. But the 21st year I’ll pick it out of the box and it will feel like something is flowering in my mind.” [talking to ‘The Bookseller’ magazine] Keeping track of ideas is something that every novelist does, in their own way. Pulitzer-winning novelist Anne Tyler [she won in 1989 for Breathing Lessons] uses a box of index cards. She writes one note per card, sometimes a possible character’s name, other cards may be more detailed. After she uses the card, she throws it away. I like this idea. At the moment I store all ideas, fragments, no matter how small. But they are in different places and it can be frustrating tracking them down and matching them together. Keeping them in an index box means they are in one place. Somehow it is more tactile to write it on a card rather than type a note in a Word document: the difference perhaps between free writing in a notebook, and free writing on a keyboard. Read my reviews of A Spool of Blue Thread and Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler.   See how these other
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Categories: On Writing.

How to get ahead: Kate Turner

Kate Turner “Be yourself. Never try to be something that you are not or you will be found out. At the end of the day, people buy people, so your ability to get on with others is paramount.” [Kate Turner, quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] This is great advice for life, not just for work. Kate Turner is head of advice policy at financial planning and investment management firm Towry. When she made the comment above she was head of private banking at Coutts & Co. And it is a reminder that although we writers do our work pretty much in isolation, we need to be able to sell ourselves and our book too. What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given? Try these tips to get ahead:- Anya Hindmarch Nicky Kinnaird Sarah Sands And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Be yourself: advice from finance advisor Kate Turner via @SandraDanby #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1aS
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Categories: On Writing.

How to get ahead: Kate Silverton

Kate Silverton “Your instinct and not your fears should be your guide – it’s too easy in a world that constantly feeds into our insecurities to be led by what we think we ought to do – rather than be true to what we really are.” [Kate Silverton, quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] So write what you want to write, the way you want to write it. Don’t be afraid to try something new: new genre, new point of view, new voice. Write poetry or a short story. Do you enjoy writing dialogue, why not attempt a play? What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given? For BBC journalist Kate Silverton’s website, click here. Try these tips to get ahead:- Kate Turner Nicky Kinnaird Vivienne Westwood And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Follow your instinct, not your fears: advice from #journalist Kate Silverton http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1aP via @SandraDanby #amwriting
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Categories: On Writing.

My epiphany: Tess Jaray

“… we were taken out into the streets with our drawing tutor and I drew a row of trees into my sketch-book, the tutor was scathing: you are only looking at the trees. What about the spaces in between? You wouldn’t even see the trees if they weren’t framed with space. And look, he said, the spaces in between also have shapes – imagine the trees as the edges of the picture, and framing only the space. You still have a shape. Perhaps even more interesting than the trees themselves. Well, I’ve forgotten his name… but I owe him much.” Tess Jaray, in an interview with ‘RA Magazine’ [Spring 2014] Jaray is talking about an epiphany, a revelation, that lead her to consider the role of space in art. I first read this article as research for Justine Tree, the artist character in Connectedness. Jaray is an artist, but it got me thinking about my epiphanies about writing. I think the novel which has had the most influence for me in terms of structure and how to tell a time-slip narrative, is AS Byatt’s Possession [this is my much read copy below]. Booker Prize winner in 1990, Possession tells the story of
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How to give feedback to other writers

Giving feedback to other writers is a useful skill, whether you are a creative writing student, member of an informal writing group or online writing community. Writers are incredibly supportive of each other, but we do want constructive feedback, feedback that makes us think about what we have written. But there are good and bad ways of giving feedback. Here are some of the things I’ve learned, in +30 years of subbing the copy of other journalists, and 10+ years of attending creative writing classes and critiquing the novels of friends. Feedback should be the start of a discussion, not a unit of time comprised of you talking. Start with a ‘Feedback Sandwich’. This is a management technique I learned for handling staff appraisals but it works just as well when critiquing a fellow student’s work at a creative writing class. When asked for your comments, it is good to start with a short summary. The emphasis being on short. The sandwich is positive-negative-positive. The aim is to encourage, rather than to pick faults. Say what you liked about the work you read. Be specific. If there is something in the text which confuses you, point out the particular passage.
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How to get ahead: Donna Karan

Donna Karan : “Time is your most valuable commodity and a precious resource. Prioritize! To me, that means putting aside time for what matters, including time to creatively recharge and meditate, as well as time to be with your family.” [quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] Fashion designer Karan is right. I don’t know about time to meditate, but I do put aside time to write. I have many writer friends with small children and jobs, who still manage to write by scheduling an hour in their diaries here and there. Just thinking about writing, wishing you were writing, doesn’t put the words on the page. What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given? For Donna Karan’s website, click here.   ‘My Journey’ by Donna Karan [UK: Ballantine Books] Buy now Try these tips to get ahead:- Zandra Rhodes Anya Hindmarch Vivienne Westwood And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Prioritize to get ahead: advice from #fashion designer Donna Karan via @SandraDanby #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1aB
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Categories: On Writing.

Is writing a novel like writing a song?

You probably won’t have heard of Dan Wilson, but he is the singer songwriter behind a lot of very familiar pop hits. Most famous, is Adele’s Someone Like You. Is writing a song so different from writing a story or a novel? Here are his 10 Tips on How to Pen a Pop Classic [source: The Times April 24, 2014]:- Write a lot of songs: without concern for whether they are good or bad. “Finish them and move on.” Get in front of an audience: in other words, get other people to read your stories. “It takes the audience – and the terror – to tell you what works.” Forget about getting the number of that famous pop star: Cultivate your friends instead. “Don’t try to find some big dude to help you. Work with the people around you.” In other words, get on and make it happen yourself. Put in the hours, but get out too: “Songwriters spend hours staring at a blank page, despairing, but once you have a way in, all your history and experience comes into use.” Sound familiar? Work hard, but go for a walk in the fresh air too, have a coffee with friends,
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How to get ahead: Gail Rebuck

Gail Rebuck: “Never be afraid to say what you think; always have an opinion. Be prepared to fail, but learn from your mistakes. And always do more than is asked of you.” [quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] Excellent advice from Dame Gail Rebuck, chairman of Random House UK. Now in charge of strategy, Rebuck had been chairman and chief executive running the day-to-day business, from 1991-2013, so there is nothing she doesn’t know about book publishing. Drill down, and the advice is the same as the other successful businesswomen in the ‘How to Get Ahead’ series: be yourself, work hard, learn from those around you, and be prepared to sell your idea. What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given? Click here to read an article in The Guardian about how the UK publishing world lost key women leaders, including Rebuck, in a matter of weeks in 2013. Try these tips to get ahead:- Sarah Sands Kate Silverton Donna Karan And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Never be afraid to say what you think: advice from Gail Rebuck via @SandraDanby #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1b1
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Categories: On Writing.

How Emma Hooper writes

Emma Hooper “I’ve got an obsessive nature when it comes to the rhythm of the words and I’ll have sentences that are perfectly grammatically correct, but it has to have just the right amount of syllables.” [ in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, October 17, 2014] Debut novelist Emma Hooper is also a musician, and this shows, she says in her style of writing. Her first novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, was published in January 2015. Some of her chapters are very short, just a paragraph or two on a page with lots of empty white space. “It’s like when you play a symphony or a concerto,” she tells The Bookseller, “or even an album, it’s one long piece, but the white space between the songs or between the movements is very important. You need a minute to digest and then move on.” To read my review of Etta and Otto and Russell and James, click here. Click here to read The Bookseller article in full. See how these other novelists write:- Mary Gaitskill Bill Clegg Anne Tyler ‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ by Emma Hooper [UK: Fig Tree] And if you’d like to
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with… Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler on her sense of accomplishment at writing 20 novels: “I would say it’s like if you’ve ever painted a room and you have to sleep in that room at night and you can see you made a mistake here, and here, and here.” [Anne Tyler, in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, November 21, 2014] Anne Tyler’s debut novel, If Morning Ever Comes, was published in 1967. Her ninth, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant [1982], was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won it in 1989 with Breathing Lessons. She wishes she could ‘retire’ her first four novels, believing she really got going with her fifth. This is so reassuring to debut authors such as myself. Such is the pressure today to write a best seller from the beginning, that it is easy to forget that a craft must be learned and it can take many years. Hopefully readers discovered her with the first and stuck with her, that’s exactly what happened to me when I read Kate Atkinson’s first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum in 1995. I have bought and read every single novel she has written since that first one. The pages of my
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Categories: On Writing.

How to get ahead: Anya Hindmarch

Anya Hindmarch “The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is: don’t lose sight of who will wear your designs. Don’t get carried away by what others think, as often their views are about art and not sales, and sadly sales are what is required to fund your art.” [Anya Hindmarch, quoted in ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] A sticky one this. Applying Anya’s advice to novels, should we focus on our readers rather than the story? It sounds suspiciously like writing-to-a-formula to me. There has to be a middle way for an author, of writing the story you want to tell in a way you hope your readers will want to read it. If you focus only on what sells, what is trending, you run the risk of trying to write what is popular now and finishing it after the trend has moved on. So, write what is true to yourself. What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given? For Anya Hindmarch’s website, click here. Don’t know who Anya Hindmarch is? Read this article in the Daily Telegraph about the handbag designer. Try these tips to get ahead:- Donna Karan Gail Rebuck Kate Silverton And if
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Categories: On Writing.

How to get ahead: Zandra Rhodes

Zandra Rhodes “Don’t see any job as beneath you. There is no such thing as a small job – only small people. The reality is, because of the credit crunch, there aren’t that many roles out there. If you have to go to a lesser job, do it with the best intentions, as you don’t know what it might lead to. All the best interns I’ve had working for me – like Philip Treacy and Matthew Williamson – would turn their hand to any task, even if it was just making a cup of tea.” [Zandra Rhodes, quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] Dame Zandra Rhodes is a British fashion legend. If she asked me to make a cup of tea, I would make one. Her advice works for me in strong economic times, as well as in poor. The best way to learn any job is bottom-up. The best way to write a novel is to write, write lots, write every day. Write flash fiction, short stories, poetry, essays, blogs. Unfortunately best-selling novelists don’t take on interns, as fashion designers do. Otherwise I’d be first in the queue… Kate Atkinson, PD James, Philippa Gregory. Which novelist would you
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Categories: On Writing.

Applying the rules of art to writing: art is a form of experimentation

“But most experiments fail. Do not be afraid of those failures. Embrace them. Without courting the possibility of something miscarrying, you may not take the risks necessary to expand beyond habitual ways of thinking and working. Most great advances are the product of discovery, not premeditation. Failed experiments lead to unexpected revelations.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White Nowhere is this more true than in writing: predictable, safe, boring, unpublished. Words set in concrete. Do not be constricted, particularly if you are writing for a genre which can be a straitjacket. Take a deep breath and write something unfamiliar, you don’t know where it will take you. My attempt [below] at being Picasso at www.picassohead.com was, understandably, deleted. But I did experiment.I take most risks in my short stories, it’s an opportunity to try a different genre or voice, even a dystopian world. I get more from experimenting with short fiction if I give it space to breathe, before reviewing, before making a judgement. Sometimes I press the ‘delete’ button. Sometimes an idea takes root that may one day become something bigger. ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] Buy
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Categories: On Writing.

How to get ahead: Nicky Kinnaird

Nicky Kinnaird “Passion and focus go a long way to making something happen. It’s astounding just how often something you wish for and work determinedly towards comes into fruition. The most important thing I’ve learned on my way up the ladder? No doesn’t necessarily mean no. Develop a compelling argument as to why someone should say yes.” [Nicky Kinnaird, quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] Kinnaird, founder of the Space NK chain of beauty shops, doesn’t mention determination here. Call it what you like: determination, stubbornness, focus… it involves hard work and persistence. Whether you are selling beauty products, or writing a novel. Kinnaird, in keeping with her own advice, focused on what she wanted to do next. She left the company she founded in July 2014 to set up a new consultancy. What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given? For the Space NK website, click here. To read a Daily Telegraph report about Kinnaird’s departure from Space NK, click here. To follow what Nicky Kinnaird does next, follow her on Twitter here. Try these tips to get ahead:- Kate Silverton Donna Karan Zandra Rhodes ‘Awaken Your Senses Change Your Life’ by Nicky Kinnaird [UK: Quadrille]
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Categories: On Writing.

Applying the rules of art to writing: making art is an act of discovery

“If you are dealing only with what you know, you may not be doing your job. When you discover something new, or surprise yourself, you are engaging in the process of discovery.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White So this is clear: push the boundaries. I agree with this to a certain degree. Familiar can be safe, predictable and boring on the page.  If you discover something new, something that excites you, and you can transfer this to the page, then you stand a better chance of exciting your readers too. I’ve been learning about art, as research for my character Justine Tree in Connectedness. I know a bit about art but definitely have my comfort zone. So I’ve been making a conscious effort to visit exhibitions of artists I know nothing about, styles I am unfamiliar with. Shows I’ve been to include Damien Hirst, Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Constable Gainsborough Turner and Kurt Schwitters [top]. I have my member’s card for the Tate, the Royal Academy and the V&A. I eat cake in their members’ rooms, I know the location of the ladies loos. What have I learned? I’ve certainly
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Categories: My Novel: 'Connectedness' and On Writing.

Applying the rules of art to writing: admire your forebears…

“… but don’t try to build a career by repeating their discoveries. Most students come to art training after a passionate engagement with established or historical art. Nothing is more thrilling than to delve deeply into the beauties of Titian, Turner, Rodin, or Cézanne or into the edgy excitement of contemporary work. But every student must remember that art is a constantly tilled field, and its job is to overcome what we know in order to examine and celebrate what we don’t yet know. What makes work of the past endlessly satisfying is the vistas it provides into a moment in history. Every artist must do the same for his or her moment.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White Every writer must read. If you want to write crime fiction, read Sayers, Christie, James, Larsson, Rankin. If you write thrillers, read Harris, Boyd, Grisham, King, Le Carre, Fleming. But don’t stop there. Read outside your genre too. Read the classics, read genres you know nothing about. And read as a writer. Learn from the masters. Then leave behind all that you have read, and write your own thing. Yes learn from the masters, but
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Categories: On Writing.