Monday, 28 October 2013

Reading 'Fangirl' and Fanfiction

If you know me well, or not at all to be honest, then you will know there are certain things that I am a HUGE fangirl for. So you won't be surprised to learn that when I heard about Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell I knew I had to read this book as soon as possible. I don't usually write book reviews on here, but every now and again there comes a book I just have to talk about, and with this one I wanted to talk about more than just the book.

This was one of those books I got and couldn't put down. It made me emotional and nostalgic,  and tearful - really it made me into a blooming mess for days. When I finished I wanted to hold it to me FOREVER. This was the book I've always wanted to read and always wanted to write.There was just so much in this book that I got and identified with, regarding fandom and fanfiction and just so many of Cath's experiences were relatable. It was almost as if I was being written about, and I know a lot of people will have thought the same thing. It didn't help either that the world of Simon Snow was clearly so inspired by the Harry Potter world and fandom. Although I was never a part exactly of Harry Potter fanfic, I did read some, and have been a part of other fanfic worlds. Which leads me onto another reason for this post - fanfiction.

I wrote recently about NaNoWriMo and the HUGE influence that it has had on my writing and writing journey, cheesy as that sounds. One of the other big influneces on my writing is fanfiction. Yes, I know, it doesn't always have a good reputation, and certainly in the book Cath comes up against a writing professor who is snooty about it (that whole thing - I was just like GIRL what are you DOING? That did annoy me, but I guess it was to illustrate a point). Anyway, people are dismissive of fanfiction, but that's often becasue they don't understand it.  I totally get the professor's point in Fangirl that she needs to start developing her own characters and voice - yes of COURSE she does. But any writing is good, surely. It's a wonderful place to start and pratice, because that's the key to writing, practice pratice pratice. Didn't somebody say you neeeded a certain number of hours of pratice and experience, in for example, writing?

BUT, for me writing fanfiction gave me several things:

Firstly, ready made characters to develop into your own. This helped me learn how to develop settings and worlds and having all that in place meant I was able to experiment with writing LONG pieces and I was able to write longer stories because of it.

 A ready made support network and instant feedback. This is important. I was so lucky to have a wonderful group of the best friends ever around me and we all wrote and shared things with one another, gave feedback - even wrote stories together. The best experience ever. And then there is the thrill of just posting something and being able to get replies straight away. You're out there. This is like twenty first century Dickens. We shared installments as we wrote them, got instant feedback and response, and people who wanted to read on (most of the time). Of course there were times I should have edited more and more, but you learn. Writing fanfic is like the best learning curve in the world. 

Most importantly, it gave me the desire and inspiration to keep writing. It was the best writing pratice in the world. Where else are you able to just keep writing like that and be a part of a writing community that also happens to be huge fans of the thing you love? Without the fanfiction community, I would probably be hundreds of steps behind where I am now with my writing. It helped me develop my voice, character, plotting, settings, structure - EVERYTHING. You make mistakes, but you learn from them. You learn what works, what doesn't. All in all, it's good practice.

Writing fanfiction is exciting, and thrilling, and I spent many many hours reading and writing fanfic - obsesesing over it. Of course it all tied in with being a part of a fandom - and for me that fandom was Mcfly.  I read a bit of Harry Potter fanfic, but never got it in the same way. I guess you get used to a certain thing. One of my friends was addicted to Potter fanfic and just couldn't understand how I could read and write things about people who were real. But that seemed more 'real' to me I suppose.

Between NaNo and Fanfic, I have clocked up HOURS and hundreds of thousands of words of writing practice for which I am thankful. I have a huge 'fic' file on my computer, and it's hilarious and also very embarassing to look back at old writing - especially my first ever fanfiction, written in 2005 (it's AWFUL) but it's also wonderful just to see how far I've come since then.

Writing fanfic is the best fun in the world, and it gives you that extra time in the world you love and with the people you adore. And it's the best learning curve ever. I know some people don't agree, but fanfiction will always have a HUGE place in my heart. I used to spend hours at school scribbling ideas and writing fanfic - I was always writing and that was the best thing ever. I dont' feel like I've said everything I wanted to, or expressed it very well, but this book brought all these memories back and made me nostalgic. But I'm not ashamsed to admit how important fanfiction has been to me. I don't think I would be where I am now without it.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

'Editing Alchemy' with Lil Chase

Last Saturday I attended a SCBWI South West Editing Workshop with Lil Chase (of Working Partners Ltd and author). It was lovely to see lots of familiar faces again and catch us, as well as meet lots of new people. The workshop itself, which I was a little bit nervous about, was fantastic. I learnt so much, and the way that Lil spoke and phrased everything was inspiring. It made everything really clear for me, and put things in a way that I had never considered before. Being surrounded by other people doing similar things to you as well, and all of them enthusiastic and completely dedicated to their writing - and some of them published! -  is also inspiring. I love the atmosphere that surrounds SCBWI and I am so glad I joined.

Editing is something I always struggle with. I always tempted to just go, oh it'll do, but this workshop made me look at things differently, even if they are things deep down I knew, it's brilliant to have them reinforced and phrased in such a way that makes them click. I am now furiously writing chapter summaries, looking for change in every scene and chapter, writing and rewriting hooks and considering 'inciting incidents', escalating stakes and conclusions. Lil stressed that change is fundamental to a story, and the main character must be presented with a difficult conflict that they cannot ignore. As the story goes on, the stakes must increase until the story comes to a climax and then conclusion. Every chapter and scene too, must contain a change to keep the story moving.  Lil suggested too that 10% of a first draft can and should be cut - an interesting idea, particuarly for me because I find I write a bare outline of things, THEN go back and add things, and THEN cut.

The funny thing is, and I guess I shouldn't be surprised at all, but the reading I'm doing for my module at the moment is covering the same sort of things. Weird how things collide like that. It's kinda nice though, it reinforces the ideas and principles. I came home on Saturday utterly inspired to get editing and able to look at my novel once again with fresh eyes. This lead to a creative high on Sunday and Monday morning, which was a completely wonderful feeling. I'm hoping the inspiration and enthusiasm will last a little longer - and it should all help with future projects.

Thanks Lesley for organising and Lil for the workshop - I'm looking forward to the next workshop already.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Why I will not be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year

It's that time of year. If you know me, you will know that I have taken part in NaNo for the last seven years (yes I had to check that, just to make sure, because wow - really?!). THe emails are being sent out, everywhere around hte interwebs there are people announcing what they are writing, and whether they are winging it or planning it. But this year I am not going to take part.


I'm not entirely sure, but I'll try to explain. I mean, I have done this for SEVEN years. I owe a lot to NaNo and I think it's FANTASTIC. I still think it's fantastic. Without it, I probably would still be writing fanfic or starting projects that I never finish. True, I probably would have eventually got round to writing a novel and finishing it., but probably not so soon - I wouldn't have proved to myself that I could do it. I could write that many words. It taught me a lot - about plotting and the need for a routine and writing everyday, and just getting the words down - and about first drafts and the way that anything goes. Editing comes later - the important thing is to get the words down. And I write all of my fiction like that. Get the words down and then go back to edit. It taught me a lot. It's been important to me - it's magical. The challenge and the community and just the writing that 1667 words every day has always thrilled me. I've met lovely people too through it and I have many fond memories of NaNo and the forums and the community. The thrill of those first 2,000 words, breaking through the second week barrier, and updating word counts, hitting half way, and then finally clicking validate novel at the end with hours or days to spare.

So I owe a lot to NaNo. It's something that draws me back every year- last year I didn't even mean to do it, but come mid October with all my friends prepping for it, I did it.

Yet, it doesn't feel right this year. I mean I'm editing one novel, and am half way through other projects that I want to focus on, and I don't want to drop it all to write something else that, I'll be honest, I won't edit and won't do anything with. I haven't really done anything with the projects I've written in the last few years - I've had good intentions to do so, but I've always focused on other projects throughout the rest of the year and not gone back to them. Which just seems a waste. I mean, if I had some burning ideas to write and nothing else on the go, I probably would do it. But I'm always so fed up with the story at the end, and it just doesn't seem worth it so much anymore. So I'm taking a break from it this year.

(Of course I may be retracting this statement on the 31st October at 11.58pm or something).

Also - I just saw a post about 'PiBoIdMo' - Picture Book Idea Month.... I might try this out instead as something different! Find out more here.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Happy National Poetry Day!

Happy National Poetry day everyone!

One of my everlasting memories of National Poetry Day, which I've probably written about before and I've tweeted about, is the head of English at my prep school reading out the lunchtime notices every year in rhyme, which was always fantastic. I remember it so clearly.

This weekend is also the Exeter Poetry Festival, and there are lots of fantastic events going on - tonight Jo Shapcott and Sean O'Brian are reading, and then tomorrow night there is a MA poets reading, followed by a discussion and reading on poetry called Beyond Borders. Should be good! Looking forward to it. Right now I am debating what I am doing tonight, as I have three things I could be doing... dilema!

Anyway, in honour of National Poetry day I am going to post a couple of my favourite poems:

The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods ...
But there is no road through the woods.


Sea Fever, By John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
T.S Eliot, extract from The Four Quartets, 1. Burnt Norton
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
                                          Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.