Showing posts from June, 2013

Z is for Zee... no, zed.... no, zee....

I was wandering around the supermarket this morning. I have a lot to think about at the moment, so I was seeking out distractions rather than panicking at the length of my to-do list. The mid-morning shop tends to be when parents do their 'baby-friendly' shopping - that easy-going half an hour before the harried, aggressive workers arrive with their sharp elbows, vicious baskets and competitive sandwich shopping; and totally different from the after-school rush when the aisles are awash with loud and hungry school children. Anyway, I digress (which was probably what prompted me to shop in the first place). Two grandparents passed me as we walked by the mushrooms. They were pushing their grandson in one of those child-friendly half-car shopping trolleys. He was sweetly precocious with a long blonde fringe (bangs) and plump little legs sticking out of his short trousers (pants). He wasn't very interested in driving the half-car/half-shopping trolley: most children make &

Y is for Yearning

“ The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.” Samuel Johnson Yearning lies at the heart of why we write. We yearn to create an alternative world, one which, if we're honest, we'd rather spend time in than anywhere else. We yearn to live as different people, achievable through our characters. We yearn to tell stories as a way of making sense of the world or maybe even to feel we have control over things in some small way, the prime movers of our fictional universes. Believing we have something to say we yearn for our voice to be heard. There are many other reasons people write, for catharsis, a way of dealing with traumatic events, as a way to preserve memories, but I believe it's yearning that drives a writer most strongly, that fires up that need to get to our desks and into our work.    In the heart of a reader lies a similar yearning. Readers yearn for escape. They yearn to become someone else, to experience

Y is for You

Writing starts with YOU. Who you are now. Where you come from and what you carry around inside of you. Being a writer is using these parts of you to create work that engages and inspires people in an authentic way. Who am I? I don’t know, it changes from day to day but one way I keep track of who I am is keeping a journal. My thoughts, dreams, aspirations, failures, rants and all the things I carry around inside uncensored in vomit size chunks, to track my progress as a person and as a writer.   Why do I want to be a writer? I don’t know but I do know what other writers have done for me. The first time I read Toni Morrison, I felt that she had shone a light into the darkest corner of my soul and helped me see what lurked there. When I read “the bluest eye” she lead me kicking and screaming into understanding and seeing the humanity of a character I would have condemned in real life as a monster.   It changed me profoundly forever. Unlike most writers I came to li

X is for Xanthippe

Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates and her name means ‘yellow horse.’   That’s really all we know for sure, but her reputation has come down to us as a rather unpleasant nagging woman.   Socrates is alleged to have said that you can either have a nice wife and be an ordinary man or have Xanthippe and be a philosopher. Those words he may or may not have said raise a question in my mind.   Aspiring writers certainly appreciate the support of their partners, children, other family members and friends.   But is it possible we also need our own versions of Xanthippe?   Should we try to find people who will not just support us but also nag us? In the last few years, as I have tried to learn how to write novels, I’ve been very grateful to my teachers and fellow writers who have the kindness and commitment to demand that I set some words down on a page and, yes, nag me.   So here are some heartfelt thanks to people who have demanded I do more than I might have been inclined to do: ·

W is for Writers

I was going to take the easy way out and write about ‘writing’. Well, that is what this A to Z series is all about, isn’t it? Not being one to take the easy way out, I’ve decided to write not about writing , but about writers. And to narrow the field down further, this rant is going to be about other writers. Other writers. We hate them, don’t we? There is nothing new in our dislike of our adversaries other writers, as these quotes show. Gustave Flaubert called George Sand “(a) great cow full of ink.” Charming. How about H. G. Wells’s opinion of George Bernard Shaw: “An idiot child screaming in a hospital.” If you think that’s bad, it pales into insignificance compared to the spat between William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. Faulkner said the Hemingway had “ never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” But don’t feel too sorry for Hemingway who wondered whether his opponent really thought that “...big emotions come from big words?” At

V is for Visiting

I’m writing a story which is based in a town very like somewhere I know well, but haven’t been to for many years. A couple of months ago I was about 70 miles from this town for a meeting and visiting some friends. I was going to the theatre that night to see a play.    I was quite excited about this and also dreading it. On paper it read quite like the theme of this novel I’ve been working on for years. I’d decided to go, on my own. I had an afternoon spare and a hire car so on the spur of the moment I decided to drive the 70 miles and visit this town. Check out some of the locations, walk the streets and go to the shops my main character goes to.    It was a sunny afternoon which seemed to bring everyone out. My main character arrives in the town by bus after an absence of 20 odd years. There used to be swarms of school children pouring off and on buses on this main street at this time of day. But there were none now. A few streets away I found a new bus depot. I say new, but

U is for Under the Skin

I’m going for subcutaneous today: meaning under the skin, though the outer layer is pretty important too.      Look at an illustration of skin and you should find either two or three main layers depicted. 1 . Epidermis . This is the outermost layer that people see instantly when they look at someone. The Epidermis is, in the way of nature, not confined to being a simple layer. This is not intended as a biology lecture so I’ll simplify it to five separate cell levels. 2. Dermis . This it that lovely inner layer of connective tissue with those tiny little vessels that link up to the pores on the outer epidermis. In the dermis you’ll find hair follicles, lymph glands, and vessels for transporting blood and other bodily needs. Sweat produced here helps to maintain body temperature and sebaceous glands produce sebum to keep the outer layers moist and supple. 3. Hypodermis. This is not technically part of the skin layers but we all need our skin to be attached to our bones a

T is for Time

As I sit here, needing to imminently submit my blog post to the wonderful Cafe Aphra, I know T can only be for Time.  Time is the most precious thing we have and the one thing I would most eagerly part with money for - if it could be bought. I suppose in some senses it can be bought; if you are rich you don’t have to work and therefore you have bags of time, whereas if you work in a low paid job and have to work all the hours to make ends meet then you’ll have very little - of course there are various grades in between.  But, as Tolkein’s Gandalf once said, ‘ All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us .’ Don’t waste your time Just a few years ago, when I was a cool young singleton living in London (!?), I had no ties apart from my fantastic job, which I always put more hours into than perhaps I ought. The rest of my time I spent hanging out in wine bars, or at home doing more ‘work’, watching TV or doing housework (which incidentally is, past

S is for Short Stories

We've spent a lot of time writing about writing. Today it's time to just write. In honour of  National Flash Fiction Day  which begins at midnight tonight and will see micro-fiction posted on their blog every twenty minutes for 24 hours (look out for some familiar names around 1, 3 and 4am!), we are going to post some short pieces written by our many and varied Café Aphraites over the course of today and maybe tomorrow. If you would like to post something, email it to cafeaphra as soon as you can and we'll try our best to get it posted up here. Off we go....   The Children   The train rolls along beneath my feet, rumbling along the track through the birches.  I sit slumped in my window seat, listening to the music through my headphones.    I think about Elsa.  Last night in that dark grey techno bar she spilt her cold red wine down my shirt, as she leant across the table, whispering frantically while smiling, flashing her eyes as if we were in a

R is for Rewrite

Yes, that’s right. Rewrite. What else is there to say? One must write, when one must, because – as we’ve clearly seen from this blog – there’s no other way for most of us and we’re just stuck with it I suppose. No, that’s ungrateful. I’m sure to live a “normal” life without stories constantly running through one’s head would be a dull and graceless experience. But yes, it has its problems too. One of those problems is that, after the fleeting moment of magic has flit – that oh so rare and precious time when the words are flowing onto the page and one feels that one is flying – when that is past, as it usually is, then what is left is to cut, cut, cut, edit, edit, edit, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.   We’ve all heard it: “A real writer doesn’t write, he (or she) rewrites.” (Well obviously they must write something first, one assumes, in order to have the raw material needed in order to then rewrite it.) But you know what I mean. Sometimes rewriting takes so long that one wonde

Q is for Quality

‘An inherent or distinguishing characteristic or an essential character.’   Reference Shakespeare “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” This quality is definitely strain’d   in certain parts of the world today, witness the slaughter in the Middle East. Having lived there for 17 years I found the people had the same aspirations as me. A peaceful life, quality education for their children, and quality jobs and income for all. I never met anyone who approved of “terrorism” or even the disruption of other people’s lives: live and let live was the mantra. Quality as a personality or character trait can be portrayed by a person’s generosity or otherwise. A mean personality being portrayed as a person of “poor quality” and the opposite as being “top quality,” or from the top drawer. Shakespeare’s Shylock springs to mind. Quality goods were always kept in the top drawer whereas poorer quality was hidden away in a bottom drawer, apart from a girl hoping to wed and stocking a ‘

P is for Purpose

A few alphabet letters back I advised you not to write. Given that you are still here and still reading, I suspect that you are still writing. So, let's move the debate forward. Sit down for a moment, place your left hand alluringly close to the corner of your mouth (see diagram below for classic 'thinking woman's pose'), and ask yourself.....What is the purpose of your writing? It is possible that when you think of 'purpose', your writing doesn't get a look-in to the long list of purposes which drive your life. In that case, you might want to shift things about. Get creative. If, for example, the only purpose that springs to mind is mothering, then write your own bedtime stories a la J.K. Rowling; if your dominating purpose is to keep the rabbits from eating your vegetable patch then write a story about a rabbit learning to leave your lettuces alone a la Beatrix Potter, and if your imagination is worn thin by your daytime job of managing a bank, say, t

O is for Overheard

If you are a person who likes to write   - whose thoughts are full of the lives, habits and quirks of others   - a fat, juicy, overheard comment laden with potential is like (I imagine) a hit of crack cocaine. Once those words, so rich with ideas, images and outlines, reach your sensitive ears you are hooked. Many a short story or piece of flash fiction has been launched into life by an overheard phrase or conversation. I expect that there are more authors than care to admit that the dialogue in their latest novel was lifted directly from their local café or bus stop.   Is this wrong? An invasion of privacy? I don’t think so. The overheard words and sentences are generally used as a starting point, a prompt for the mind of a writer to start doing what it does best; creating other lives. The finished product will be a far cry from the snippet that began its creation. The words are usually changed to protect the innocent.  Some overheard remarks have stuck with me, still make me sha