Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Explicit v Implicit

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 1 – ‘The Lovers’ This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Lovers’ (the first chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection).   Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. ***

Implicit v Explicit: The role of literature in educating children about relationships.

It begins in the primary playground. I watched my daughter, then aged 9, open two Christmas cards from her boyfriend, one was public, the other containing 51 kisses (she counted them) was private, it came with a Thornton’s Sicilian lemon bar. Not long after that he dumped her. She campaigned to win him back by buying a football and learning French. I didn’t quite get the French thing. Most of what she knew about relationships came from Disney films and books.

Romantic relationships are a key facet of life and can be introduced through literature quite early. Peter Pan’s love triangle with Wendy and Tink, Bert’s courteous admiration of Mary Poppins, and, more realistically, the romance which unfolds beautifully over nine volumes in Little House on the Prairie.

My own books are full of pairings: Jeopardine and Miss Spindle, Molly cook and Sly, Alas and Lucinda, Oy and Linnet, appear in book 1 of my Duldred trilogy. I very much enjoyed writing about these different, often humourous dynamics.

Literature offers a wonderful and very broad education in the varieties of courtship and the subtleties of human relationships.

It’s sad that this has largely been replaced by the anatomical biology lesson and the no less anatomical sexting of body images, or crudely stereotyped ‘lessons’ from poorly filtered cyber-dross.

By the age of fourteen I had seen Jo March choose mature love for an ageing mentor over a tempestuous match with the dashing, moody Laurie (I still think Prof Bhaer is icky). I had lived with the heavenly hellish obsessive love of Heathcliffe and Cathy. Social equality with the insipid Linley could not survive inequality of passion. Passion went beyond death. Scarlett O’Hara gave a master class in coquetry, wiles and manipulative pragmatism, but also spirit, courage and independence. Her adulterous yearnings for Ashley revealed the allure and idealisation of the forbidden. There was the slow burn of Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester. The quiet haven of modest, dependable character relieved the fast and literal burn of madness, danger and bestial beauty. In Sons and Lovers Mrs Morel mirrored my own mother, trapped and stunted by rough and narrow masculinity, while retaining her respect for the dignity of labour. If only Scarlett had been there to give Nancy a good talking to when she was abused by psycho Sikes. Then Mammy could have come out and sat on him.

It’s a long time since I’ve read any of these books. It would be interesting to go back and see what they now yield. I’m sure I missed much, but consciously and unconsciously, I learned from thousands of finely graded thoughts and emotions in their pages, all achieved with barely the flash of an ankle.

Implicit v explicit. I know which I prefer.

*** Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from: The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) - we can ship books around the world! and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk. It can also be ordered via your local bookshop. If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here: http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/carnival-2/ Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women: ‘Fantasy, love and oddity.’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her favourite poems about lovers from her second collection of poetry, Look At All The Women. ‘The Walnut Hearts’Marija Smits shares some ‘nutty’ poetry about love and reflects on the role good communication has on a harmonious relationship. Georgie St Clair shares her feelings on why we should indulge our passions as lovers in her lighthearted post — ‘Creative Lovers: Not Tonight Darling’. ‘The Lovers – Or What I Don’t Know About Love’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt about love from story books, people watching and her own life and wonders if she actually knows anything at all. ‘Implicit v Explicit’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines considers literature’s role in teaching children about relationships.

Monday, 19 May 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

First dip into the world of blog tours. I'm following on from Abigail Watkins. You can read about her writing process here http://www.writingwhilethekidssleep.blogspot.co.uk

What am I working on?

My writing life is at an exciting stage. I’m collaborating on a number of projects but my main focus has to be the Waifs of Duldred fantasy series for ages 9 to adult.

Book 1, Oy Yew, was longlisted for the Times/Chicken House Award. After some near misses with the big six I’m delighted to be working with indie press, Mother’s Milk on the trilogy. I’m currently sorting out the tricky middle section of book 2. Managed to write for a sneaky two hours at work today - I'm self-employed so only myself to answer to.

This morning we had a production meeting for a beach panto to be staged this summer in Weston-super-Mare. It's based on the 1930s poem 'Albert and the Lion.' It brings Albert to Weston where he searches for lost treasure in the company of witches, pirates and dragons. We're using puppets and actors. I've really enjoyed writing for the show and am looking forward to seeing it realised.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think the voice is different. I see a lot of chatty writing. I prefer the language of the classics: Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows. They are my benchmark. I aspire to Philip Pullman's readership, the literary end of the crossover market. The themes run deep but there’s plenty of humour in the mix. 

Not following the crowd is both a weakness and a strength. It was wonderful to get this email from a commissioning editor for one of the big houses. She first read Oy Yew some time ago:
I have read and considered a fair number of submissions since then, but yours has stayed with me – the characters were lightly drawn and yet fully realised, and I so enjoyed the warmth of your writing. With so many authors writing either for the older age group (teen/YA) or for this age group but going down the slapstick humour route, it’s really quite rare to find such a lovely story with such a classic feel.

Despite her enthusiasm she played safe. If your work is eccentric - try the small presses.

Why do I write what I do?

So I can go there.

I want to go to the worlds evoked by WB Yeats: twilit places of wood smoke and leprechauns. Through the looking glass, laws and limits fall away. The characters are the sort you watch with awful fascination. My best writing happens when I step through the glass and scribe.

How does my writing process work?

The Duldred books started with chimneys: they have that mysterious portal quality. Then came Alas, the chimney sweep laden with fears and guilt. Oy crept in, extremely quietly, yet somehow demanding top billing.

Some scenes come chronologically and fully formed; others have to be worked at. I’m catching at language and images, consulting the mental hoard. Characters fill out and dictate events. The ending is decided somewhere in the middle. It’s random, organic, all over the place.

Sculpting comes later. 40,000 words are cut. 5,000 are put back. I draft and redraft, adjusting a sentence when the rhythm is off,  changing a word or action that isn’t true to character, varying the pace, strengthening the plot, adding signposts.

Then I leave it for at least a month. When I can read it without blushing it’s done.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Anarchy and children

I was 5 when I decided to enhance a 1902 copy of Clara in Blunderland by colouring and writing in it. It was a spontaneous act of anarchy (fittingly the book is political satire). I didn't like the look of Clara. She had narrow temples and bad hair, so I scribbled on her.
    Then my instincts were bludgeoned into submission by 'don'ts'. From adolescence these were replaced by 'do's'. Do be a consumer. Conform.

Reader, I shook it off. Children and the best children's books are anarchic. Like.