Note to self: don’t call this entry ‘The Write Stuff’

Last week, I was reminded that when you have a passion for an activity, you’ll find a way to carry it out no matter what the conditions.

I’ve subscribed to Artificial Womb, a feminist zine run by my friend Ana Hine. The format really is an old-school zine, with A4 pages of typed text and freehand drawings stapled together into a booklet. But this edition was different. The first variation to catch my eye was the return address on the envelope; it was a hospital in Kent. In this issue, Ana is candid about why she’s confined to the place at the moment.

Regardless, she somehow managed to find collaborators, write and illustrate the zine entirely by hand, photocopy the pages, and post the finished product to subscribers. On top of that, there’s a mini booklet about her former partner and a small piece of art on a separate sheet. I think that’s marvellous work under the circumstances.

You can subscribe to the zine right here.

A public-domain photo of an open notebook.
A public-domain photo of an open notebook.

Most of my fiction, poetry and even blog entries start life as pencil on paper. But last week, I also wrote a letter of my own by hand.

I have a friend in the US who goes by many aliases, but for the purposes of this entry, I’ll call her C. In March, I sent her special-edition David Bowie stamps and she replied recently with a thank-you card, two postcards, and a handwritten letter. I felt compelled to return the favour.

On one hand, I found the process of writing to be liberating in the sense that there was no urgency. Unlike an electronic message, there is no expectation of a near-instant response, so I was able to draft and redraft the letter, and also to write one of the postcards in the area depicted in its photograph.

But the process also highlighted a difference in style between her letter and mine. C would go off at tangents and ask questions, some of them rhetorical, whereas I was more inclined to create a narrative structure and answer questions rather than ask them.

So I rethought my style, and the final letter deviates radically even from its last draft, answering some of her questions and posing my own. Even with the aforementioned postcard, that ends on a cliffhanger, with the comment that a stranger had sat next to me on the bench as I was writing and that I wished he would find his own spot.

I also alerted C when I’d posted my letter, as she’d told me that mine was arriving. After our brief discussion on the matter, I don’t think I’ll flag it up next time, and simply let it be a surprise. I might also surprise you and end this entry abru


I want to be a book star.

In the early 1980s, Van Halen famously requested a bowl of M&Ms at each gig with all the brown ones removed. This was reported in the press as typical rock star behaviour, but the request fulfilled a practical purpose.

The band carried so much equipment on tour that they were worried about accidents from roadies failing to set it up correctly. By including the M&Ms clause deep in the technical part of the contract, they reasoned that if the bowl wasn’t set up as requested, there was a good chance the rest of the technical setup had been ignored as well.

While writers and poets don’t need nearly as much gear as musicians, I think I’ve been to enough literary events to know what I would like and wouldn’t like if I were ever to launch my own book. It’s not to be a diva, I’m merely thinking of practical matters.

I’ve narrowed it down to five key points:

Disabled access

When I’m organising NaNoWriMo events, one of my prime considerations is accessibility. At my hypothetical book launch, this would be a dealbreaker. Everyone ought to be able to come in and hear all about my hypothetical book.

Standing up

Many studies have shown that sitting down for extended periods is a Bad Thing. Sure, most book launches rarely last more than an hour, but multiply that figure by however many launches you’re doing, and the time soon mounts up.

I’d therefore prefer to stand up as much as possible, especially while signing. This has the added advantage that I would be physically on the same level as the reader and it feels more of a two-way conversation. Speaking of signings…

Clearly signposted queue

I went to a launch in July that was so well attended, the bookshop ran out of seats. However, when the time came for the author to sign copies, nobody thought to direct people about where to queue up. Two queues were formed, and the author had to take turn about to keep the wait as fair as possible.

Short questions

I saw a cartoon a few months ago where an academic was being interviewed on stage and the caption read something like We’ve just got time for one rambling self-indulgent question. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find it again.

I would have no problem answering questions, but we’d all like to remember what the start of it was by the time we reach the end. One breath, one question, or we move on to the next person.

Red wine available to all attendees

Writers and red wine go together like rock stars and cocaine. I’m sure Van Halen would agree.