I know it’s been almost a year since my last blog post, but trust me, I have been busy. Life’s trappings wrapped me up and I am just about beginning to disentangle myself.
Anyone who knows me knows that although I am a night bird, I also love my sleep. However, my fingers are hot to tap and my determination and creative juices oozing. I have to complete the second draft of my novel, ‘A Woman like Doli’. To help me achieve this I have set myself a challenge: to wake up at 4.00 every morning (Monday to Friday) and write for two hours before having to face my domestic tasks. Of course, I plan to top this up by squeezing in more writing time during the day.
I promise to keep you posted.
WISH ME LUCK!
I recently read two novellas, ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Passing’, by Nella Larsen. They were published in the late 1920s and both fit into my ‘good reads’ category. I find the writing style of that period quite refreshing. For example, the first few lines in chapter one of ‘Quicksand’ reads:
‘Helga Crane sat alone in her room, which at that hour, eight in the evening, was in soft gloom. Only a single reading lamp, dimmed by a great black and red shade, made a pool of light on the blue Chinese carpet, on the bright covers of the books which she had taken down from their long shelves, on the white pages of the opened one selected, on the shining brass bowl crowded with many-colored nasturtiums beside her on the low table, and on the oriental silk, which covered the stool at her slim feet.’
I had to read this section again, just to confirm that the second sentence was really that long and to immerse myself in the language, style and how they hung together. It worked for me and, in fact, grabbed my attention more, even though I know most writers would try to avoid such long sentences, for fear of losing the reader.
Nella Larsen was of dual heritage. Her father was from one of the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean and her mother was Danish born, so it isn’t surprising that both stories have a theme of identity and race running through them.
You can read my review of both stories on the New Black Magazine’s site, by clicking here.
In September I attended an event at Goldsmith’s University entitled, ‘Black British writers in conversation’. When I signed up for my free ticket, I anticipated a round table forum with writers such as Bernadine Evaristo, Andrea Levy, Donna Daley-Clarke, Zadie Smith, Jacob Ross, Courttia Newland etc., discussing aspects of writing – their journeys into writing, the stumbling blocks they have faced (or still do) as black writers; the publishing world and the best way forward for writers etc. Lovely…. This could not be missed, I thought.
First I hit a bad start. That afternoon, I got to the station to find that due to flooding (we’d had a massive down-pour earlier) no trains were running from Ilford to Liverpool Street. I took another route – you know – going backwards to come forward again, and eventually made it to the event one hour late!
I walked in, sweat dripping down my neck and lower back and tip-toed to an available seat. There were two black women on the stage: Bernadine Evaristo and another, whom I later learnt was Andrea Stuart. At the time she was reading from her published autobiography. The writing was engaging enough to draw me in and give my body some time to cool down.
There was a third woman on the stage and, because she was white, I wondered why she was there. It soon became clear that she was the chair. Deirdre Osborne.
Was this it? I asked myself, after Andrea Stuart finished reading her piece. True it was difficult for me to get into the event, having arrived so late, but I couldn’t help wondering: Where are the rest of the black writers? I looked around the theatre. There were between 70-100 of predominantly young black people, but a whole block of vacant seats. Out of the questions from the audience, I found the most interesting ones to be around ‘Exhibit B’, and the MA in Black British Writing, Performance and Drama.
My journalistic curiosity began to bubble.
Today, you can read my finished article published in The Voice newspaper on Thursday 4th December, by clicking here.
On my way to the station to meet a friend last Sunday (19th) I was listening to one of my favourite community radio stations, Conscious FM. After playing one of John Holt's well known songs (could have been Mr Bojangles) I noted the DJ, Issac Natural, referring to John Holt using the past-tense. This alerted me that something was amiss. I persevered and soon Issac confirmed that John Holt had actually passed away earlier that day. Just like so many years ago, when I was driving and heard the news announcement that Marvyn Gaye had died, I was compelled to stop and take a quiet moment to let the sadness pass.
I have been living in England for most of my life and it's times like this that I feel like a real minority. Because, I would like to hear an acknowledgement of the loss and appreciation of John Holt all around me, including in the mainstream such as on Smooth FM, another radio station I often listen to.
I would like the whole world to share in my mourning for the late great legendary reggae singer, John Holt.
Thankfully, I belong to that 'minority' where John Holt death is far from insignificant or invisible.
We salute you, John Holt, we, strong, in the large ‘minority community’ in Britain. You will never be forgotten for your contribution to our much loved reggae music. Your music and lyrics will continue to sustain and transcend us to places where we experience loves found, lost and craved.
I’m so glad I had the pleasure of seeing you in concert at the 02, in Greenwich, this summer and am sorry I will never get that pleasure again.
RIP, John Holt. We salute you.
On my blog post dated 1st June, this year, I told you a bit about my Arvon retreat in Devon, where I joined with a group of fellow writers in making the most of the relaxing surroundings at Totleigh Barton to really hook up with our muse.
Before leaving Arvon, we shared some of our work. I read my first published short story, ‘The Last Leg’, to the group, mainly because it fitted into the allocated time we had and also because it’s still one of my favourites.
After the reading, Debbie Flint, who is an author and TV presenter on the QVC, shopping channel, mentioned to me that she and a group she belonged to are considering putting together an anthology of stories for Halloween and that she thought my story would fit in well in there. (Of course I was chuffed!)
Well, to cut a long story short (no pun intended!) it’s here!
The anthology is called:
‘Hocus Pocus '14: Spooky Tales with a Twist’ and it’s available on Amazon from today.
So, if you like stories that give you a chill, with a twist in the tale to boot, you'll have many good reads in this one.
I always find it hard to find words when a person I hold dear passes, but I couldn’t let too much time elapse before acknowledging the sadness I feel over the passing of Maya Angelou.
Maya was a Sister, mother, poet, educator, author and much, much more. I remember reading the first of her autobiographical books, ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ (1969) way back in the eighties. It is one of a
few reads which not only educated me, but also touched me deeply.
Another one of her works which never fails to give me goose bumps, everytime I read or listen to it being recited, is one of her well known poems: 'Still I Rise'.
Click on the U-Tube link below and sample the treat, courtesy of Maya herself.
Rest In Peace, Maya Angelou
You have made a most valued contribution to this world.
One or two of you may have noticed updates on my site. I have added a synopsis of my second novel in progress, ‘Holding On’. I had been thinking about this story for some time now, whilst reworking my earlier novel, 'The Vulnerables' and based on advice given to me by an agent, I have put 'The Vulnerables' to simmer and started putting pen to paper to produce what I hope will be, a good first draft of 'Holding on'. October 2014 is the deadline I have given myself for completing this draft. Let's see if I can achieve it.
You may have also noticed that in January this year, I had two pieces of flash fiction, ‘The Bump' and 'Cuts' make runners-up in a 'Darker Times' (January 2014) flash fiction competition. Both stories have been published on the Darker Times Publishing website: http://www.darkertimes.co.uk/past-winners.aspx# and also in ‘Darker Times Collection’, Volume two available from Amazon.
How do I keep going, I sometimes stop and ask myself; working on two novels, squeezing out small pieces and polishing others up for publication.
‘Sa sè moi?’ (Kwéyòl for, ‘Is that me?’)
In April this year, I spent four and a half days at Totleigh Barton in Devon on an Arvon Foundation writing retreat with yoga. This was a real writing treat. Although struggling with ‘eye problems’, I connected with nature and my senses and knuckled down to some serious writing.
After five wonderful days focusing on my writing in the middle of peaceful farmland, returning to crowded and built-up London to face the hum-drums and demands of my day-to-day life made me feel quite resentful and hard done by.
Oh why can’t I be granted the wish to simply write, twenty-four seven, if I choose to?
Still, I learnt a few yoga moves from Lucy, our instructor at Arvon, and through chatting with the other writers on the retreat, learnt other relaxation techniques which I hope will serve me well in the future.
I can happily say that as well as firming up my story plot and structure, I wrote more than double the amount of words I had written in six months prior to the retreat. I also met some very interesting people, including Debbie Flint, a romantic fiction writer and (would you believe it?) QVC presenter! We all had some good laughs and it was encouraging being with over a dozen writers who were in different stages with their writing.
Being the romantic that she is though, she left two red blooms on the tree. They were sursprisingly firm, fully intact and dancing away in the breeze.
"Well, happy Valentines Day to you too," I said.
See, even the wind can be a romantic. On Friday the 14th, the night after one of the heavy storms had passed, I looked out of my window to find the savage wind had picked every leaf off my rose bush.
Hope you had a good one!
Soon after attending the ‘debate’ on Black publishers, which I talked about in my last blog, I attended another very interesting event: ‘Gatekeepers in fiction publishing’ which was organised by a London based organisation: ‘Spread the Word’.
Coming to terms with the powerful roles gatekeepers play in deciding which works of fiction get published and which get cast aside or remain on the so called slush pile, was rather daunting and a little demoralising. However, on the positive side, it was encouraging to hear about the tremendous publishing opportunities social media such as Kindle, on-line magazines and blogs currently offer writers.
I can safely say that I have found social media invaluable, not only for promoting my writing, but also for getting my work published.
My first published short story, ‘The Last Leg’, came out of an exercise I was given in one of Jacob Ross’s writing workshops. The instructions were to write a short story with a whole recipe running through it. A challenge, I thought at first, but I produced, ‘The Last Leg’.
This story fell under the genre of crime. I was even newer to the publishing world than I am now, so wasn’t quite sure where I could get it published. I left it sitting around for over a year, then took good advice and googled ‘crime stories’, whereupon I found the Short-Story.Me website. I submitted to them and hey presto, they said they would publish it. Chuffed? You bet I was. And what a boost it gave to my confidence as a writer.
I’m sure many emerging writers have similar tales to tell.
Thank you social media!
As writers we are always told by those who know about the publishing world that short stories don’t really sell. We are told that if we’re not a known author (i.e. have one or two published novels behind us) publishers will not be interested in taking a risk on a book of short stories from us. Even if they do, we shouldn’t expect to make any money from sales.
Sadly, making money from published short stories is still extremely unlikely, but if the main aim is to get readers reading your work, the money’s not too much of a problem.
It is fair to say that gatekeepers will always exist in one form or another in fiction publishing, but I think the most important gatekeepers are readers. They are the ones who really give the writer that big red tick and worth while recommendations.
Check out my article on the ‘Gatekeepers in Fiction Publishing’ event published in the New Black Magazine.
As always, feel free to leave your comments.
Here you'll find my views and comments on my experiences and other stuff I just can't shut up about.