The Shock of The New.

Even although I’ve had stories published, I’m very keen to keep expanding my horizons. DamyantiWrites made this very point in her recent entry Do You Swim Free?, where she discusses authors who are happy to sit on the well-worn cushions of their comfort zone, rehashing the same ideas for years.

To this end, I’ve joined a Life Writing (LW) class at the University of Dundee. Thus far, the vast majority of my scribing has been about fictional characters in fictional situations, but LW is all about the self: memoirs of a specific event you experienced, an autobiography of your entire life, or a biography of someone else’s.

In last week’s class, we wrote a passage about a recent holiday; in my case a boat trip up the River Forth in Edinburgh. Part of our homework involved rewriting the passage using reference material such as photographs, maps and articles. The next class is on Tuesday, when we’ll be discussing the LW we have enjoyed and/or disliked.

I hope to expand my horizons in other ways too, such as poetry, and the performance type in particular; I intend to come back to that subject in the future. I’ve also written a stage play and I’m kicking about an idea for a screenplay.

There are authors who can carry off taking the same path over and over again. Read almost anything by Agatha Christie and it follows a familiar pattern where everyone ends up in the drawing room while Poirot or Miss Marple whittles them down to reveal the murderer. And I dislike Dan Brown’s style, but looking past that, he is another good example. Historical facts, symbolic minutiae and conspiracies spill out onto every page of every book, and the public lap it up.

I really yearn to pull something unexpected out of the bag. P D James is one author who did just that. For years, she penned detective books, then at the age of 72, wrote the science fiction novel Children of Men. And Roald Dahl is famous for his children’s books, but additionally wrote macabre short stories for adults, and the script for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. That’s like Cliff Richard releasing a hip-hop album.

To that end, I’ll attempt to wring every possible benefit out of the LW course, and not just from the teaching in class. Being a student allows me into the university library, where I’m writing this, and into the cheap campus bar. And that means it’s easier to take Ernest Hemingway’s slightly dubious advice to, “Write drunk, edit sober.”

But I’ll need to squeeze it all in before December, when the course ends and I’ll lose these privileges.

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The End of The Beginning.

Ye gods! I knew I was living under a rock with LiveJournal, yet I didn’t realise the exact extent until other users started hitting the Like button. I’m unaccustomed to such a response, and I much appreciate it.

I chose WordPress over sites such as Blogger because I have a couple of friends here already. Even the range of basic features are bewildering; when I typed Like button in the previous paragraph, it gave me a Wikipedia link to the Like button page. After a little more kicking the tyres, I’m sure I’ll soon crawl into the 21st century.

Today I’m talking about endings. I recently read two short story anthologies by the same publisher: one from 2011, the other from this year. It struck me that a high number of the pieces in both of these did not have a proper ending, in fact the editor seemed to prefer this style. In some cases, the author would conclude with a limp or vague paragraph. In other cases, it would simply stop, leaving me checking for a missing page and in a couple of cases, asking, “And?” out loud.

It was disappointing rather than annoying because a lot of the stories in the anthology contained great ideas that were let down by their execution.

I try to give my stories a twist ending, or at least a clear marker the reader has reached the end. I don’t always manage, however. I recently received a rejection from a publisher looking for funny stories because, “… the ending lacked a good punch line.” To me, a rounded ending is important in a short story. Even if the reader is meant to be left in some doubt, there ought to be enough clues or information in the body of the story to narrow it down to two or three possible options about what might happen next.

One important exception, however, is autobiographical writing. I’m going to come back to this in more detail on Monday. For purely fictional writing, however, an ending is king.

Photo of mug with,
Not The Booker Prize, nor The Nine O’Clock News.

I was going to leave it until Monday to post about the Not the Booker Prize run by The Guardian, but the deadline is midnight on Sunday.

In my last entry, I mentioned my writing sensei Zöe Venditozzi. Her novel has been shortlisted, and I encourage you to click on the photo above and vote for it before the deadline of midnight on Sunday.

That’s not just because I know her, but because it’s a cracking character-driven piece from a début novelist, featuring alongside established authors Neil Gaiman and Kate Atkinson. It also happens to feature a chap with my very initials who happens to volunteer at hospital radio, just as I do.

To cast your nomination, you’ll need to create a Guardian account and write a short review in the comments. As the paper says, Comment is free, and so is your vote.

Taking The Lid Off The Pen.

When you speak to a lot of authors, it’s common to hear that they were always writing stories as children or experimenting with poetry as teens. However, I’ve only been writing for three years, since 29 October 2010, in fact. That was the day I signed up to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) on a whim, since everyone else was doing it.

From high school until that point, I’d written hardly any fiction. Since then, I’ve entered NaNoWriMo every year and written dozens of short stories, many of them under the tutorship of Zöe Venditozzi, whom I’m sure would like you to buy her book. I’m also pleased to report that I’ve had a flash fiction piece published in The Fiction Desk, while FourW will publish one of my short stories next month. More on the latter when it happens.

Although I didn’t write fiction until three years ago, I have kept a blog for a long time, and it’s still a powerful way of spreading your message, even in these days of Twitter and Facebook. I don’t plan to give up my with ageing LiveJournal for my day-to-day activities, but I did want to start afresh with WordPress for discussing my writing.

I’m viewing this as an experiment, and it might not last. After all, the more you write about writing, the less time you have to write. But I hope I can whip myself enough to keep this place updated, and more importantly, to make sure you want to read it.

One final thought: I’ve used the tag-line Carry on for a long time, before that Keep Calm poster ever came out. I’m debating whether to have a tag-line at all, and if so, what should it be?