Should be writing but…
Driving home from a research mission yesterday I heard Peter Robinson discuss his new novel, When the Music’s Over with Samira Ahmed on Radio 4’s Front Row. (I haven’t read the book yet) As I’m sure you know, Robinson is a very successful crime writer and clearly puts a lot of thought into his subject and characters. It was interesting to hear him speak about how writing about the issues and subject of his novels, helps him understand them differently. He also discussed how he tries to ‘develop the victim characters’ and give them a voice. This is particularly interesting to me, as in writing a ‘crime’ story I want to subvert the usual conservative function of the crime novel (you can read more on idealogical complicity in crime fiction here).
But he went on to say, that he avoids talking to people about their experiences as victims of crime, preferring to rely on media reports and his imagination. I wonder if it’s possible to give a voice to victims if he hasn’t heard their story? Is it possible for a white, older man to imagine what it’s like to a female victim of violence and sexual crime, or even to imagine how it feels to live your life with the pervasive fear of potential assault informing all your choices and actions. Maybe he can, the imagination is a powerful thing.
Ahmed mentioned the discussions about extreme violence towards women in crime TV and literature, and that she felt uncomfortable about the description of the victim in the opening scene of Robinson’s new book, she asked if he worries about adding to the ‘exploitative treatment of crime’ even when trying to deal with difficult subjects. Robinson said, ‘No, I never do worry about that because I don’t think that on the whole I do it very much….’
Perhaps he should worry, perhaps all writers should. Now I know it’s not a new argument that media and culture shapes our society, our identities and our sense of the possibilities and choices available to us. But I think it’s important to consider if crime novels and TV are reflecting society, and in writing about crimes against women, does this give a ‘voice’ to the victims and create the possibility for empathy and understanding? Or does it confirm and perpetuate the idea that women are always victims and in danger? That we need to stay inside to be safe? (where we’re actually more at risk…)
Government statistics tell us, ‘Overall, a greater proportion of men were victims of BCS personal crime than women. While men were at increased risk of violence, women were more at risk of experiencing theft from the person and intimate violence’ (BCS 2009/10).
It’s time for change, and novels that unsettle the status quo. Let’s do it.
Stray verbal bullet
Clarity in need.
‘He cheated on me. How is this possible?’.
‘I told you so!’.
Four words you should never say…
About the Author
I am a psychologist, certified cognitive behavioural therapist and functional analytic therapist working in private practice since 2006 in Athens, Greece. I like being creative in therapy and I use story writing as an evocative tool for my clients. I have presented Story Writing in Psychotherapy at conferences and led according workshops.
Holding a black belt in kick boxing and attending contemporary dance lessons for six years led me to be more resilient, to keep on fighting for my goals and gain more self knowledge.
Writing stories is a passion of mine and an inspirational refuge during stormy times.
Interacting with authentic people fuels my energy.
Professional website: http://www.mental-health.gr/
(For me this perfectly illustrates those hurtful conversations that do more harm than we realise… in only 22 words! HJ)
I only had one pair of socks from you, a welcoming gift to our new house. After I’d put it in the washing machine, one of them disappeared. Have you ever wondered where lost socks go? I’ve kept that washing machine. Just in case it appears again, missing its half.
About the Author
I work in Greece in the IT field. I’ve been published only back home and I would like to reach English speaking readers.
(With just 50 words, Alex articulates heartbreak, loss and the futile optimism of the spurned lover. HJ)
‘You? Married? No way! You’ve always been such a loner,’ Tonia said, gaping at Magda’s wedding ring.
Magda squinted at the picture Tonia stuck under her nose and said, ‘Such beautiful girls! Who do they take after?’
‘Me, of course. We never tell Giannis though. That would ruffle his feathers.’ She tore a piece out of her paper shopping bag and scribbled something on it. ‘Why don’t you come over to our place one day? How about this Sunday?
‘Come on! It’s now or never. Sunday at eight. Here, call me.’
Magda couldn’t remember the last thing said but when she got home and glimpsed at Tonia’s number: Melissia, Northern Attica, the other end, she chucked the paper deep into a kitchen drawer.
About the Author
Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou lives in Athens, Greece but writes in English. She holds a BA(Hons) in Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her stories have appeared in print and online in several literary magazines. Her first short story collection entitled ‘Black Greek Coffee’ is available from Amazon.
(Konstantina hits home and hits hard with her stories… she gets under the skin of those mundane encounters that forge (and scar) our lives with incisive skill, HJ)
No one should be this happy in the club, with their mother. It wasn’t always this way. When he came out there were tears and harsh words. She told him she didn’t want him to go to hell. It hurt a lot when she said that. But they’ve grown in love. It has mended all their bonds. He’d confess now that he was an asshole as a teenager too. A lot of his friends, even those around him, don’t see their parents. Some Dads even tried to beat the faggot out of them. But they love his Mom. They accept her and dance with her all night.
They found their shared passions over time: Music, dancing, Hugh Jackman. She spent her youth in the music venues of the sixties. She hung out and listened to Nina and The Beatles. For a time she was a back-up singer with the band of the moment. As he grew up she sang to him all the great songs from that era.
Now they are dancing in the club to more modern tunes. She still loves music, even though she thinks the current singers and bands lack talent and creative autonomy. A beat is a beat and they dance to it freely. After all, they’re amongst friends. They’re with his LGBT brothers and sisters and she feels as safe as he does.
This illusion is shot through with bullets. She is amongst the first to die. She covers him; in love, protection and blood.
About the Author
Dreams are often Matthew’s inspiration in life. That life is one of the aspiring penniless writer. A graduate of Goldsmith’s, University of London and Kingston University where he received his Masters with distinction in Creative Writing.
His favourite criticism from his Masters portfolio reads, ‘he strays into melodrama now and then, and the latent hysteria of his style comes through.’ He has no evidence, but believes this awesome opinion was formed when he came to class with one of his many alter-egos, Amy Wino, in his bag after a charity event.
Although he loves dreams, he neither prescribes to the psychoanalytic or New Age interpretations of dreams. More simplistically, he just revels in their stories and often crazed imagery and logic.
You can follow his work here.
(We write to understand ourselves; we write, often, to understand catastrophic and dreadful events – and here, Matthew has responded sensitively, beautifully to one of the worst mass killings in US history. HJ)
Please Keep Me
She travelled alone and she travelled light. Anything she had left behind she didn’t need any more. She had her memories and her scars. And she had hope. Her feet hurt her at every step but walking was the only way.
She stuck to the back lanes and footpaths, sometimes holding her life in her hands for a dash across a busy road. She hadn’t eaten all day and hunger made her miserable. She climbed a farmers stile and sat herself on the top rung.
Fields all around. The hum of traffic. Ahead were buildings visible between the branches and trees. A new town. She didn’t look back.
She jumped down from the stile. She walked on, butterflies unfolding themselves startled by her passing. At the boundary foliage she easily leapt the ditch and found herself by a weather beaten fence. She walked along it, following her nose, hoping for a hole.
The sun was showing the first signs of falling. Shadows stretched and leaves and branches hid its glare. The land and the air smelt different from where she had come from. She felt, not fright, but maybe anxiety. She hid it well. Any stranger observing her could tell nothing of her mood.
She walked on.
At last a poorly repaired fence panel, rotting from damp. She pushed through into a smell of ale and sweat. These smells were not unfamiliar but they held no happy memories for her. The low sun was exposed and its sideways glare blinding. She heard male voices and smelt cigarette smoke on the evening air.
She kept to the sparse hedge trying to be as invisible as possible. She managed to keep hidden but to get free of the pub garden she would have to pass very close to a cluster of gesticulating men.
She dashed out and a startled man cried out in surprise and lashed out a foot in reaction. She easily dodged it. This was nothing new. Her light feet made little sound crossing the gravel of the car park but she was suddenly on a busy street. A street she had never seen before. Without stopping she dashed on, across the road and dived behind a tidy privet hedge.
She was still hungry but she was drained and fearful of the strange smells and sensations. She dug herself in under the hedge and cat-napped the dusk and most of the night away.
It was shortly after dawn when she was picking twigs and leaves from the hedge off herself that she heard a child’s voice. She looked over. A little girl in school uniform.
‘Mummy, mummy, a catty! Can we keep her. Can we? Can we?’ She cried out.
She sat dead still as the child approached. Wary but hopeful. She sniffed the hand held out to her and liked it. Milk and cereal. If she’d had fingers she’d had crossed them, thinking please keep me.
About the author
Ford Dagenham likes movies to be 90mins long max.
Posts a poem or pic a day in the blog Hatchbacks on Fire.
Thinks he can speak French impeccably.
Feeds the cat. Has own mass. Believes in alchemy.
Has chapbook A Canvey Island of the Mind by Blackheath Books.
Turns up in PUSH and Paper&Ink and Hand Job zines.
Faced with dilemmas he often runs a bath.
Today he will accidentally absorb news.
Then run a bath.
(I love Ford’s style, his extraordinary-ordinary details that puncture our familiarity with the world, his words… ‘butterflies unfolding’!! HJ)
I’m still editing my next novel, So the Doves… of course.
Editing is the writing, all writing is rewriting. Right?
And you think it would be easier than writing the first draft. Shouldn’t it? The material is already there, you aren’t having to create a new world, new characters with complexities and drives and frailties and strengths. You’re not navigating the plot or wondering how to finish.
By now you’re polishing and smoothing, getting rid of excess, honing the language, teasing out the key dynamics of the scenes… aren’t you?
Except I’m not. I’m tinkering. I’m wrangling sentences till they dry and crumble. I’m beginning to hate my novel. I can’t see it clearly, and I feel lost in all the words. I’m too close. I read other authors and hold their work up as mirror against my own… and the reflection isn’t pretty. At all.
I want to give up.
Talking to other writers, my students and academics, I know I’m not alone here.
So what to do?
- Take a break from it. Put it away, for at least a month.
- Read, walk, walk TV, think, laugh. Live.
- Don’t panic!
- Share your work with trusted peers (even if you have a wonderful editor, like I have, I still like to get thoughts and constructive feedback from readers I trust and respect)
- Print it out and read it through from start to finish. Don’t be tempted to start picking at it piecemeal.
- Does it work as a whole? Any plot/structure problems to work on? Fix those first.
- Read your feedback from peers/editor. Does it resonate? What will you incorporate into your edit?
- Now open the doc, and start the edit – start on the big stuff (copy editing comes last)
- Don’t compare your work to anyone else’s, you’ll feel miserable (or the opposite, cocky, which is worse) and it’s of no use to you now. This is your work, so it should be different.
- Put it away again. Follow point 2. Let it rest.
- How is it? I’m willing to bet it’s much better than you think…
- But don’t be disheartened if you need to edit again, and again.
- Writing is re-writing…
- DON’T GIVE UP!
Onwards! Let me know how you get on…
So, the flash fiction challenge has finished having had some amazing (and I don’t say that lightly) stories shared with us all.
My questions are – was it helpful sparking inspiration? Did you enjoy it? Did enjoy reading the pieces?
And the main one – Shall we do it again soon? Different prompts etc?
Look out for the final pieces from the flash fiction challenge over the next few days. I’ll be featuring a chosen story and author from each of the challenges. You won’t be disappointed!
Have a good’un x
You’ve made it to the end of our challenge… How are you doing? Nailed it? Let’s see…
25 words please. TWENTY FIVE words only.
Your prompt? Four words you should never say…
Points to remember –
Make every word count. Carefully chosen details can convey more than long descriptions. Make your title pull its weight!
Post your piece with title and your name/pen name in the comments section
If you would like to offer feedback to other writer’s – do so respectfully.
Make sure I can contact you at the end of the challenge if you’d like your work promoted here.
Deadline for posts is the 28th of June