21 December, 2012

Blog 2012

    It's the season when the tradition of getting nostaligic for the past year and/or ambitious for the following year really comes into its own. Any half-decent writer will be writing a pithy, poignant and insightful blog post, perhaps with a nice little quotation at the end to inspire their readers to move onwards and upwards into the coming year.

    I'm not going to do that. I suppose I'm not feeling particularly pithy right now. So instead,I've made lists. I love lists. A well-made list is a loyal friend. Here are some fun blog facts and a few links to conversations you might have missed on this blog (not too late to join in!) and to other blogs that rock:

    Most commented blog posts of 2012:
    1.  That Would Be Myself - our grammar hang-ups and difficulties
    2. An Agent - my good news moment of the year
    3. Fancy Fonts - deciding which font to use next
    4. Morality in Fiction - do we have double standards when it comes to reading and writing?
    Most viewed blog posts of 2012 (in addition to the posts given above):
    1. The Shortest Story Ever Told - celebrating flash fiction
    2. On Losing the Plot - my struggles with the first draft of my novel, The Art of Letting Go
    3. Do I Need to Become a Twit  - deciding whether I should join Twitter (I did! Join me - @ChloeTellsTales)
    4. Collective Nouns - a discussion of our favourite... well... collective nouns.
    5. An Interview with... Alasdair Firth - talking to the MD of a new independent publisher
    Weirdest Google searches that have brought people to my blog:
    1. 'i so totally want to drink'
    2. 'the heavens and touch them' (19 page views!)
    3. 'and or think leads to student' (14 page views!)
    4. 'angry people'
    5. 'to avoid the mud' 
    I am upset that this is how people find me, when Freya has people turning up on her blog by searching for 'cool writer'!

    Some blogs I've read in 2012 that you should read too:
    1. Write, Edit, Seek Literary Agent - from the fabulous Writer's Workshop, a must for any writer who intends to do these three things.
    2. Mammalingo - a witty, lively insight into the world of parenting. (I'm not a parent but find it hilarious.) Melissa writes for various American publications and even re-blogged one of my comments on her blog recently. She's a lovely lady.
    3. Literary Engineer - Suzi is a YA writer who has been doing a fabulous series of posts on extraneous words that sneak into our writing. Go and search for 'sloppy writing 101' on the blog whenever you're editing your own work. I promise it'll help!
    4. From Sand to Glass - Martin makes every Friday extra-fun by posting a list of pictures from the internet that have made him chuckle. I look forward to it every week!
    5. Chronic Introvert - Alice is new to the world of blogging so I'm going to encourage you to go and say hello to her! She is 18 and out to prove that you don't have to be old to be good at writing. Having read her opening YA novel chapter (yes, she's written a novel already!) I was stunned at the maturity of her writing. She could do with a team of other writers of all ages to welcome her into the blogging community and share some tips - couldn't we all? Go on, make her day :)
    Some non-writing blogs I've been enjoying this year: Bottom of the Pecking Order, Science and The Sacred, Becoming Raje, Joanna Lucy Illustrates. And of course, I have loved catching up with all my writing friends on their personal blogs too. Hooray for community!

    If you run a blog, please leave a comment with a link to your favourite post from this year and if I haven't already read it - I will!  (If you don't run a blog but have a favourite post from somebody else's blog, feel free to post that instead!)

    I haven't made lists of goal and resolutions for 2013, but as my far-flung ambition to get an agent in 2012 actually came about in a startling and surreal manner, I'm going to go all out and say I'm hoping for a publishing deal this year! What are you hoping for from the writing pixies?

    As this will probably be my last blog post this year... Have a blessed Christmas, and a Merry New Year to you all!

    "I always have a quotation for everything - it saves original thinking." - Dorothy L. Sayers

    17 December, 2012

    Is Non-Fiction Better For Us?

    My attention was caught recently by this article in The Telegraph about how "Schools in America are to drop classic books such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye from their curriculum in favour of 'informational texts'." Informational texts, apparently, are things such as manuals and inventories. These new standards are being part-funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    When entering the "real world" as adults, the children of today will come across far more non-fiction than fiction. Reading a bus timetable, filling out job applications, understanding electricity bills - these are the fundamental reasons we teach children to read. But does that mean schools should be spending less time on fiction and more on non-fiction?

    Non-fiction, of course, comes in many forms. Some of these are very similar to fiction: they tell a compelling story that grips the reader (this is particularly true of the extraordinarily popular so-called 'misery memoirs'). The only difference is that the reader also knows that they are true. Reading well-written non-fiction can be brilliant. One of my favourite books - the story of civilisation and why certain populations ended up with all the power - is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. And there are great books for children too. Just look at the Horrible Histories books - non-fiction that has captivated successive generations of children.

    So non-fiction is good. But what about fiction. Is fiction actually important? Of course it brings a lot of joy and is wonderful escapism for adults and children alike, but why actually teach it?

    There will be some kids at school who love reading fiction and, if they struggle with other areas of schooling, it might be what saves their education. So for them, it has an obvious, tangible benefit. But I would say that it has benefits for all children. A lot of cultural references come from famous books and, in my opinion, fiction encourages development. I wouldn't want to live in a world where the adults were once teenagers who never had to use their imagination; whose sole entertainment came as a complete package on a screen - images and sounds spoonfed to them, rather than created in their heads from words on a page. Fiction - both reading and writing it - discourages lazy thinking.

    I have nothing against non-fiction being taught in schools. I think it's a good thing for children to read examples of concise and interesting non-fiction that they can learn from. I'm just not sure plant inventories and manuals are really necessary. You can teach a kid to write an essay; you can't teach them to love learning. Children can leave school merely educated, or they can leave inspired as well. 

    What do you think? Is fiction actually important? Or is it a luxury? 

    13 December, 2012

    Creativity and Obsession

    Do creative people need to be obsessive about their art?

    It's healthy to take time away from the desk!
    I find it hard to think of myself as a creative person. My background is in science and I've never been particularly arty. I don't live in a commune or have dream catchers hanging in my windows. I pretty much never suffer from existentialist crises. I suppose, however, as somebody who creates stories, I am creative. But does that mean I need to be obsessive? Do I need to write every day? Does writing need to be the first thing I think about in the morning?

    "I've been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good." Barbara Streisand

    There are tonnes of quotes out there from famous people about being obsessed by what they do. And I'm just not sure they're right. Absolutely you must be passionate about your art. Definitely you need to commit time and energy into learning the craft of what you do. But passion is not the same as obsession. Obsession is not healthy. I watched an amazing talk on nurturing creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert, about how it's not OK for us to accept that creative people are depressed or mentally unstable. Sure, historically many have been, but that doesn't mean it's OK. Obsession kills either the creativity or the person. Maybe you disagree? Maybe obsession is just what it takes to be successful.

    "Obsession led me to write. It's been that way with every book I've ever written. I become completely consumed by a theme, by characters, by a desire to meet a challenge." Anne Rice

    In some ways I want to be obsessed with writing and proud of it. Don't we all want that story of how much we sacrificed to succeed? Isn't there a little part of us that wants people to admire us for emerging from writing a novel draft with a pale face and nervous twitch, physically and emotionally drained? I feel inferior to other writers by announcing that I'm not obsessed by writing. But I know full well what it's like to be obsessed by something - truly obsessed - and I wouldn't say that to achieve that state would make me a better writer.

    I don't write every day. I do go on holiday. I don't think of writing all the time. Maybe that means I'll never be a great writer, but I think it means I'll be a happier person, and hopefully a person who will love writing for life without burning out. I have no sympathy with people who bemoan their lack of success without putting in the time needed both to improve on their art and show it to the world. But there is a line between passionate commitment with a good work ethic, and obsession. In a world where Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is destroying many people's lives, I think we use the word 'obsession' too incautiously.

    I love writing and I'll work as hard as I can to get better at it, but I won't be its slave. I don't agree with Meryl Streep that obsession is an attractive thing. I don't agree with John Waters that without obsession life is nothing. Instead, I think I agree with the artist Jim Dine:

    "I do not think that obession is funny, or that not being able to stop one's intensity is funny."

    But perhaps I'm wrong. Do we need obsession to create good art? What are the signs that somebody is obsessive, rather than passionate? Do you think it matters?

    10 December, 2012

    Merry Bookmas!

    My husband and I have been debating whether or not to get a Christmas tree this year. I love to get a real tree and it's the only Christmas decoration I actually like. We also tend to use it as a card holder - standing up all our cards in its branches. BUT for the first time since we married, we are not actually going to be home on Christmas day. Luckily our dilemma was solved when I saw this post on the author Charmaine Clancy's blog Wagging Tales. Thanks Charmaine - great idea!

    Here are a few photos of our Christmas "tree". My husband is an engineer and I'm a writer, so it seemed appropriate...

    Playing a game of book Jenga

    Some of the fabulous authors helping to make our Christmas

    The finished article

    An angel's eye view. Who doesn't have a Dr. Seuss book somewhere?

    How will you be decorating your house this year?

    06 December, 2012

    Fancy Fonts (or not)

    I'm bored of Georgia. Not the country or the American state, but the font. For the last two or three years I've done all my writing in double-spaced Georgia 12-point and I'm beginning to get sick of it. I chose Georgia because it's clear  to read on paper, and also easy on the eye when looking at a screen. But several million key strokes later, I'm ready for a change.

    Agents and editors hate fancy fonts. They don't want to read something that looks as if it was written in a child's handwriting - even if the narrator of the story is a child. They just want something clear, inoffensive and unremarkable. Times New Roman (modelled by this blog post, and very similar to Georgia) is ideal. In general, if you are submitting something on paper, you want a serif font. I'm no design expert but my understanding is that - like Times and Georgia - serif fonts are the ones with all the little flicks on the edges of the letters which makes them easier to read on paper. Sans serif fonts - without the flicks - are easier to read on screen (although I don't use them).

    Arial, shown here, is a good example of a sans serif font (as is the most over-used and misused font in the world, Comic Sans).

    So I need a new font. What would you recommend? There are loads of great fonts out there. My husband designed all our church stuff in Museo and since then we've noticed it's being used by all the cool kids nowadays. But a font used in designing stuff is different from a font used for pages of writing. I need another serif font that can be my new best friend for the next year or two - until I get bored again. 

    In all probability I'll come crawling back to Georgia in a few months time (I feel guilty for telling you I'm sick of it - it's been a faithful friend to me!) and remember why I chose it in the first place. But for now, I need some fresh letters to stare at for hours on end. Wingdings do you think?

    What's your default font for word documents? Why did you choose it?

    03 December, 2012

    Signed and Sealed

    It's all official. Contracts have been signed and everything. I am now represented by David Haviland at the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency officially. David and I met up in London last week to discuss all the things that need to be changed in my novel, The Art of Letting Go. It was such a pleasure to talk about it with somebody who has an interest in it from a professional point of view, and to thrash out some of the issues. And as a massive bonus (a necessity, really) we seemed to get on very well!

    You can now read about both my book and me on the Andrew Lownie website. I have also added another page about the book to this blog for those who are curious but don't for some reason want to visit a different website. (I'm struggling to think why somebody might fit into this category, but you never know!).

    So now I have the task of re-writing the novel for the fourth time and putting together a proposal with David to send to the publishers. I'm also starting to plan my next novel as that will be a good selling point for this one  - publishers would rather invest in an author than a single book. I'm really excited about my next novel already, but I'm trying to keep calm enough to focus on this one for another couple of months!