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The What of the Where, Seasoned with How and Why
A checkpoint summary of my writing to mark the doubling of my audience.
The number of wonderful people like yourself who subscribe to my weekly newsletter has more than doubled during the past seven months. Migrating my old website into this more receptive space has definitely been ‘a good thing’. I want to thank everyone who has either elected to receive my missives in their inbox, or chosen to casually browse through my Substack site, or engaged with my varied Notes using the handy mobile app.
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To mark this milestone, I want to take the opportunity to set out my stall in a more definitive way to help you explore my writing. Below are five categories I’ll continue or plan to create new content for on a weekly basis. As before, most pieces will be available to read for several weeks before disappearing into a paywalled archive.
It surprised me when I discovered I can write poetry which readers have told me they variously laugh, cry or sigh on reading. Most of my poems still spring out of nowhere – even when writing a scene in an entirely disconnected novel. It’s a bit like having to attend to a full diaper during dinner: push out your poem and continue with the hero’s journey / antagonistic conflict / lesbian love interest, why not.
I’ve had some minor public successes with this writing form (see here and here). Poetry comes from the heart and exposes you to the world. It’s a necessary thing for a writer to get used to, a consequence of choice, my nerves sometimes tingling, other times wracked.
I aim to publish at least one poem a month. Best of all, my Substack poetry will be forever free. Please think of these poems as an entrée to me.
These are a veritable hotch-potch of prompts, triggers and random thoughts turned into prose. Variety is the spice of life. They might mirror my thinking about a topic or be utterly fantastical. Treat them like Momma Gump’s chocolate box.
Here they are - just for you. Hopefully their quality makes up for the current lack of quantity. They take some effort to create, hence being hidden away from a less discerning public gaze.
I believe writing from a woman’s perspective is a required skill for an author, no matter their sex or gender. The majority of fiction readers are women; the majority of literary agents are women; the majority of editors and publicists are women; the majority of authors… you get the idea.
However, I may have overstepped myself with this particular short story. How could I possibly tell what she might be thinking? Could imagination, observation, immersion and sheer chutzpah do the trick? I’ve no idea. It is what it is. You be the judge.
I don’t currently write serialised fiction. However, many Substack writers do, often successfully. I will continue to watch, read and learn from them. I may well join their ranks in future. I’ll of course keep you posted if that happens.
My novels are the elephants in my study. The first I’m querying with agents; the second I’m 30,000 words into as a first draft; the third is only an outline currently. They are the (mostly) hidden beasts which have dominated my thoughts for the past few years. ‘Start out with smaller pieces’, they said. ‘Don’t give up the day job’, they said. ‘Just write what you know’, they said. I dismissed all of that and I continue to ignore the enormity of the challenge I’ve set myself.
I researched for 18 months before resigning from a well-paid job, first setting out to learn to write creatively. I forged a plot outline and characters to sit halfway between Atwood and Le Guin, all within an unreliable wider narrative of a Banksian universe. My main protagonist started the first of many conversations with me. She’s like a daughter now, despite how I’ve treated her…
My first novel’s initial draft was 185,000 words. Six beta-readers emoted positive purchase vibes after reading it, and so I felt good. Then I hit reality: the price of paper dictates how long debut books can be, as the publishing industry guesses sales and can only subjectively perceive quality1. I was told by several literary agents 120,000 words was the maximum they could accept for us to stand any chance of dividing the spoils. The spectre of self-publishing haunted my dreams; I received advice from popular authors I respect, distorting my dreams of a ‘best possible future’ into a non-validated wretched Plan B. I managed to ignore devilish temptation - ‘Art and craft, art and craft. Suffering first, rewards later,’ I would mutter, doubt encroaching like thunderclouds on a sunny summer’s day.
I find editing traumatic. I was forced to kill more than ten characters, multiple side-plots and many rich imaginings amongst the 60,000 words scythed down on this first book’s battlefield, whilst being told to not think it too many. I wanted to suffer for the cause, but not to die doing so, instead wielding redundant privilege to shower money onto those claiming to operate on manuscripts with a neurosurgeon’s deftness, despite wielding an orthopod’s bone saw.
‘Where was the anaesthetist?’ you might ask. But I learned a lot. It won’t happen again, like the majority of a life’s passing.
Recently, the outlook has improved: the first 500 words of my edited debut novel beat 1500 other writers to the shortlist in a respected competition. ‘Shortlisted’ is a magical word in publishing: it means the odds are briefly in your favour within the Monte Carlo casino writers are forced to operate in, many without realising it. Statistics aren’t taught in English classes. Equations and Graphs are for the geeks. Median and Mean are for the nerds – despite Average and Normal having no place in my oddly uneven head.
After braving a confusing blizzard to cross the chasm between two cultures, I discovered an environment more akin to what faced women programmers in the 1980s, with STEM’s immense efforts to reach a 60:40 M/F ratio reverting to a still celebrated 20:80. Worse, I write genre fiction – of a speculative nature. Some days I can barely type ‘science fiction’ into a post or page, resorting instead to a sotto voce whisper. Once I even stooped to enact petty literary revenge, in an attempt to champion more deserving underdogs.
Perhaps my penning poetry is a form of naked repentance. No matter your opinion on such a heresy, I hope, dear reader, that you find forgiveness in your heart. Every time you choose during your busy day to read, subscribe to, comment on or just ‘like’ my writing, it acts as a fillip to my efforts and a welcome reminder of why I’m here, enjoying what I’ve chosen to do.
Rhyming in my writing often correlates with rising heart rate, irrespective of the cause. Teeth grinding is optional. Silence is oft near impossible.