The element of

Last week, we lost one of the most flamboyant and enigmatic musicians of our generation. Yet you never hear David Bowie described as a 70s star or as retro; he managed to remain relevant throughout his 50-year career.

One way he achieved this was the use of surprise, from the Ziggy Stardust look, to Jareth In Labyrinth, to setting up an ISP in 1998. And that’s something other writers and poets can learn from.

Prior to 1992, PD James was known for writing detective novels. She was 72 when she published her only science fiction work, The Children of Men, earning positive reviews from many corners. Similarly, you would expect something funny from Clive James, but his poetry collection Sentenced to Life is thoughtful and poignant.

So how does a writer deliver something unexpected? It might be as simple as writing a short story when you usually pen poetry, or as radical as having a section of your novel made into an animated video.

Either way, the idea must still come naturally. If you’re writing poetry on a subject when you’d really rather be adapting it for the stage, it’ll be obvious your heart isn’t in it. It’s a good idea to revisit an idea that hasn’t worked its current form and see where it can be adapted to another, or experiment with different ways of creating ideas.

When I have the beginnings of an idea, for Screenshot from DCAexample, I like to go for a long walk and turn over the idea in my head before putting anything down on paper. Yet when I was asked to respond to an exhibition at Dundee Contemporary Arts in October, I had no ideas, not even the beginning of one. Instead, I sat on the yoga mats provided as part of the exhibition with a notepad and told myself I was staying until I put something down.

The result (pictured) was a visual response with a wire basket and 100 googly eyes. It was unusual and untested for me, as I’ve had no art training – and to my friends who know this, it was most definitely a Continue reading “The element of”

You’re The Voice, Try and Understand It.

Earlier this week, I read out a new story, which is still at the stage of the first draft. When I was finished, I was told, “That wasn’t in your usual voice.” I was so pleased, I nearly shouted, “Yesss,” while pulling down an imaginary chain with one hand.

In my short writing career, I’ve developed the view that nobody necessarily has to find their own voice. To some people, it is important to write in a particular fashion, but I contest that everyone is capable of having more than one voice if they want to. I reckon you can pen ten stories in ten unique voices.

I’ve previously talked about how crime writer P D James wrote the science fiction novel Children of Men at the age of 70. Allow me to offer another example, this time from Hollywood, that illustrates my point. You could never mistake the musical Hairspray for black comedy Serial Mom, yet John Waters was behind both of them.

Changing your voice can be as simple as altering the words or the punctuation. For example, two of my own hallmarks are that I rarely go to town on description, and never use brackets. I could alter that by describing something in vivid detail, (adding extra information in parentheses). Done often enough, it would sound like somebody else.

So why not find out if you can write like someone else, but say your own thing? If you’re stuck, here’s a prompt I’ve had in my head over the last week:

Two friends are in a café or a pub. One of them leaves for a lengthy pre-arranged appointment, but returns a short while later. What has happened?